Rugby World Cup holders South Africa have been drawn with Ireland for the 2023 competition while New Zealand are paired with hosts France. Last year’s semifinalists England are in the same pool as Japan and Argentina and Wales will have to get past Australia and Fiji.
In Pool A, New Zealand and France will reignite their World Cup rivalry and are joined by Italy, who were paired with the All Blacks in the 2019 competition.
“The All Blacks, they’re a different world,” France head coach Fabien Galthie said after the draw.
“They are three-time champions and are present at the big competitions. They’re very competitive. We have a huge challenge awaiting us in the pool. We know the statistics. New Zealand have never lost a pool game at the Rugby World Cup, it’s a huge challenge. In 2011 it was completely different, the men have changed. It’s the men who wear the shirts that make great teams and the difference.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said the pool would be a big challenge for his side after a disappointing 2019 World Cup.
“The last World Cup did not go so well for us,” he said. “We have France in our pool, a country with a lot of history in rugby and it will be a very big challenge.”
In Pool B, reigning champions Springboks will meet Andy Farrell’s Ireland and Gregor Townsend’s Scotland.
“To be in the same pool as Ireland and Scotland will be a massive challenge, but to win the tournament, you have to be able to beat all the teams and we will be properly tested in the pool phases,” South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber said.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell confirmed that the side would travel to New Zealand for a three Test tour in 2022 in preparation for the World Cup.
“There’s nothing better than a Rugby World Cup draw to get the juices flowing,” Farrell said.
“We’re super excited. If South Africa are saying they need to play some good rugby to get out of the group, then that’s the same for us and Scotland.”
“We saw last year the margin for error — even during the pool stages — at any Rugby World Cup is very small.
“If you look at the countries in the top three bands, I would say each one of those teams is capable of beating another on any given day, proven by a team such as Japan, who have made huge strides in recent years.”
In Pool C, Wayne Pivac’s Wales are joined by Australia and Fiji, just like the 2015 pool stage.
It’s a similar pool, in another country. We’re really excited, it gives us a focal point,” Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said.
“Building depth is important for us and hopefully we’ll be playing at our best at that stage.”
And in Pool D, Eddie Jones’ England will go up his old side Japan and Argentina, who beat the All Blacks for the first time in their history last month.
“It’s a great pool, it’s a great pool to be a part of. If you look across them all, they’re all tough, tough pools,” England captain Owen Farrell said.
“Obviously with the way that Japan and Argentina are going at the minute, some of the rugby that has been played over the last few years by them both, obviously it’s going to be a tough pool. Argentina are an unbelievably passionate team. Everybody knows that. The way that they performed over this Rugby Championship that’s just gone on is obviously fantastic.
“But at he same time there’s a long time to go before the World Cup and there’s a lot of time for everybody to improve and make a run for it. Everybody is looking to build to make sure that when the World Cup starts they’ll be at their best.”
The draw, which took place at the Palais Brongniart in Paris, was based on rankings from January 2020, due to disruption caused to the international calendar by COVID-19.
It meant Wales, for example, were handed a reprieve as they were put in the first band of teams, whereas if the draw was based on rankings following the Autumn Nations Cup, they’d have been in the third grouping.
The tournament organisers will announce fixtures and venues in late February with tickets on sale in March.
Tournament director Claude Atcher has said they are hoping to sell 2.3 million tickets for the tournament, generating income in the region of €370m.
“In 2023, our viewpoint is we will be out of the crisis, we’re not out yet,” Atcher added.
“There will be other problems, linked if the economy takes a hit. We do have insurance in terms of cancellation in the event of a pandemic. We need to have the audacity to have hope, as Barack Obama said. That’s our maxim for the next three years.”
Tom Hamilton’s analysis
It seems jarring to see the draw made for a World Cup that’s still just under three years out, but the protagonists now know who they’ll have to get past if they are to reach the knockout stages.
For Eddie Jones’ England, he’ll relish the chance to come up against his old side Japan while Argentina will be a fierce opposition given their recent win over the All Blacks.
It won’t be straight-forward, but Jones will be pleased to have avoided hosts France and Dave Rennie’s Australia.
The Springboks will also take the draw handed to them. Andy Farrell’s Ireland remain a largely unknown quantity as they adapt to life under him following the Joe Schmidt era, while Scotland have ambitions of reaching the latter stages of the tournament.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster reacts to being drawn alongside hosts France and Italy for the 2023 World Cup.
However, it’ll likely come down to a straight shootout between the two Six Nations foes for who joins the Boks in the knockout stages.
In Pool C, the rugby world will hope Fiji have the preparation they deserve and can go toe-to-toe with Wales and Australia, but those two will be the favourites to progress.
Even though Wales are having a dismal spell of form under new boss Wayne Pivac, they will improve while Dave Rennie will get Australia singing to his tune as one of the world’s best coaches.
But the marquee matchup is in Pool A where hosts France meet New Zealand, potentially in the opening match of the 2023 World Cup.
France have been the All Blacks’ Achilles heel in the past, knocking them out of the 1999 and 2007 World Cups, and are bubbling nicely under Fabian Galthie with a team packed full of young stars. We’re still waiting for the real All Blacks to stand up under Ian Foster but they’ll go to France fully expecting to win their group, while Italy will need one monster upset to progress.
But in the intervening years, rugby still faces some huge battles. The sport has been hit hard by the pandemic, with finances stretched, and the gap between the haves and have nots risks largening unless there’s a fairer distribution of wealth in the worldwide game.
There is also the impending lawsuit from a group of former players who are preparing claims for negligence against the Rugby Football Union, Wales Rugby Union and World Rugby after they were diagnosed with brain damage.
While it’s all still well and good to have the 2023 World Cup teed up neatly in an extravagant, lengthy ceremony in Paris, rugby still has bigger battles to fight before we can start to get excited about this tournament.
2023 Rugby World Cup Pools
Pool A: New Zealand, France, Italy, Americas 1, Africa 1
Pool B: South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Asia/Pacific 1, Europe 2
Pool C: Wales, Australia, Fiji, Europe 1, Final Qualifier Winner
Pool D: England, Japan, Argentina, Oceania 1, Americas 2