Ireland to face France and Italy in next rugby World Cup
IRELAND’S group in the 2015 World Cup will be dominated by fellow European teams, with crunch ties against France and Italy likely to decide who qualifies.
The French are the top seeds in Pool D while Italy are the third seeds. Ireland will also face a yet-to-be decided team from Europe’s second tier and probably either USA or Canada.
Elsewhere, the pick of the groups is Pool A.
England have been drawn with Wales and Australia in what will doubtless be termed the ‘group of death’.
Meanwhile, Scotland have been drawn with Samoa and South Africa in Pool B.Holders New Zealand will play Argentina, Tonga and two qualifiers in their group.
The World Cup will get underway on September 18, 2015, with the final to be held at Twickenham on October 31.
Ireland should feel reasonably pleased with the Pool D make-up, with their game against France likely to decide who finishes top.
Italy will fancy their chances of upsetting the status quo, but they do not have a great World Cup record. The group is likely to be completed by America or Canada and one of Georgia, Russia and Romania.
Host nation England, crowned 2003 world champions after they beat Australia in a gripping final, have never previously been drawn in the same World Cup group as Wales.
Their last World Cup meeting was during the 2003 tournament in Brisbane, when England trailed at half-time before securing a tense quarter-final triumph.
And the last time England and Australia found themselves in the same pool was at the inaugural World Cup 25 years ago.
Wales, World Cup semi-finalists last year, have paid a price for dropping to ninth in the International Rugby Board rankings following successive autumn defeats against Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
It meant they were in the third band of countries for today's draw, increasing the prospect of a punishing group, and so it has proved.
Despite their recent struggles, though, Wales will be confident they can progress to the quarter-finals, having won two Six Nations titles and Grand Slams during head coach Warren Gatland's reign.
Scotland, whose coach Andy Robinson resigned last month following autumn losses to the All Blacks, South Africa and Tonga, have their work cut out in Pool B.
South Africa, the 1995 and 2007 world champions will be favourites to take the pool, but Samoa could easily pip the Scots for second spot and and a quarter-final place from a group that could also feature Japan and either America or Canada.
New Zealand, the runaway Pool C favourites, will be wary of Rugby Championship rivals Argentina, yet Tonga, Europe 1 (probably Georgia and Russia) and Africa 1 (probably Namibia) provide no threat.
The eight pool places to be filled by qualifiers will be finalised by the end of 2014.
If the 2015 tournament follows its current seeding path, then the quarter-finals would see South Africa face England, New Zealand tackle Ireland, Australia meet Samoa and France take on Argentina.