That’ll do nicely! No disrespect to our fellow Pool A contenders, but it couldn’t have gone any better. We avoid our bogey teams Wales and Argentina, and there’s no French or South Africans to deal with. It’s the ideal pool. This isn’t just an ideal result for Ireland though, Scotland and Japan are also licking their lips! The Scots have made massive strides lately, and indeed, could have contested a semi final in 2015 if not for a dubious late penalty awarded to the Aussies. Scotland, in the last couple of years, have shed their underdog identity. The dog, we thought harmless, nipped us on the first day of the 6 Nations this year and we’ll have to be more wary going forward. The Japanese legitimised themselves at the last World Cup, talking a South African scalp and narrowly missing out on a quarter final spot. This time around, as hosts, they’ll only be more formidable and looking at second spot in the pool as a real possibility. This summer’s tour suddenly becomes a reconnaissance mission, a glimpse behind enemy lines. The European qualifier and the playoff winner won’t threaten much, though you can expect some spirited displays from the likes of Romania or Tonga, as it’s looking like. It’s by no means straightforward, but Ireland should come out top of Pool A.
If the pool stage proves to be plain sailing, what awaits us at the quarter final stage is a storm. In all likelihood, either the All Blacks or South Africa. The winners of Pool A play the Runner up of Pool B and vice versa. It’s no secret who you want to avoid, so securing the top spot in the pool becomes imperative. The All Blacks simply won’t be runners up. South Africa tend to time their march well when it comes to Rugby World Cups. Their young squad will be primed by Japan, I’ve no doubt about that. Either way, not the most pleasant of quarter final draws, if there is such a thing. I would have said, ‘Spare a thought for Conor O’Shea’s Italy in pool B’, but his inexperienced Azzurri managed to beat the Springboks last Autumn. Maybe I won’t write them off just yet.
Elsewhere, another group of death for England! It’s icing on the cake really. One of France, England or Argentina doesn’t make it to a quarter final. In Trump speak, thats huuuuge! I wouldn’t be surprised to see Argentina, technically the third seeds in the pool, come out on top. Australia and Wales are content with certain quarter final spots though a plucky Samoa or Fiji could throw a spanner in the works. If I’m Welsh or Aussie, I’m not stressing about the opposition I’ll face in the quarters. I’m just thankful the All Blacks are on the other side of the draw and take solace in the knowledge that England, France and Argentina will most likely take lumps out of each other.
So much can happen in two years, I can only guess at the personnel and form Ireland will bring into the tournament. There’s plenty of rugby to be played between now and then, players will retire, others will emerge. I’m just hoping we can peak in Japan – it’s too good an opportunity to squander!