England have been handed a fearsome World Cup pool draw for the second successive tournament.
Eddie Jones’ men will be in the same group as France and Argentina for the 2019 tournament in Japan. At the 2015 World Cup, England were grouped with Australia and Wales and failed to reach the knockout phase.
Ireland and Scotland were pooled together at the draw, which took place in the Kyoto State Guest House, Japan.
Wales, meanwhile, have drawn Australia for the second successive World Cup — Georgia are also in their pool — while there is a shuddering showdown ahead between holders New Zealand and their fellow twice world champions South Africa in Pool B.
Under Jones, England embarked on a long unbeaten run that ended in March with defeat to Ireland, and have won two successive Six Nations titles, so they are likely to start the tournament as group favourites.
France, though, are showing signs of considerable improvement under new head coach Guy Noves, and Argentina are consistent top-drawer performers at World Cup tournaments.
The group is completed by two qualifiers — Americas 1, which will be the United States or Canada, and Oceania 2, which looks set to be Samoa or Fiji.
“Our pool will be highly competitive and full of intensity, as a World Cup group should be,” Jones said.
“History shows that you need to win seven games to win the tournament and we will greatly respect every team we play.”
Ireland will be favourites to win Pool A as they set about trying to improve a World Cup record that has never seen them progress beyond the quarter-finals.
Host nation Japan are also in the group — Scotland beat them in the 2015 pool stage — with Europe 1, possibly Romania, and a play-off winner completing the picture.
Leinster No. 8 Jamie Heaslip couldn’t hide his joy after the draw, with an instinctive fist-pump underscoring their hugely agreeable line-up.
“Getting to avoid South Africa, France and Wales, that’s a big thing for us,” said Heaslip, speaking at a Land Rover event in London.
Wales once again find themselves in direct competition with Australia, a country they have consistently struggled to beat during head coach Warren Gatland’s nine-year coaching reign.
Wales lost to Australia during the 2015 World Cup, and they also face tough opposition from rapidly-improving Georgia, whom Wales meet for the first time during their autumn Test schedule later this year.
Samoa, against whom Wales scraped a victory at World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, are also likely to feature in the group as Oceania 1, with Americas 2 completing the picture.
New Zealand’s clash with South Africa promises to be the pool stage highlight, but reigning world champions the All Blacks will not be unduly worried by a group that also features Italy, Africa 1 and the repechage winner.
All qualifying will be finished by the end of next year. The top two teams from each pool will reach the quarter-finals in 2019.
Pool A: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Europe 1, Playoff Winner
Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Africa 1, Repechage Winner.
Pool C: England, France, Argentina, Americas 1, Oceania 2.
Pool D: Australia, Wales, Georgia, Oceania 1, Americas 2.