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Ireland hoping to avoid group of death in 2019 World Cup draw


By Jonathan Bradley

While there is still the small matter of a Lions tour and two Six Nations Championships to come before the tournament in Japan, the challenge awaiting Ireland at the 2019 World Cup will become clearer today.

The draw for the pool stages will take place in Kyoto at 9am UK time, with Ireland among the top seeds.

Both captain Rory Best and head coach Joe Schmidt will be on hand to await their side's fate, but already know they will avoid the big guns of New Zealand, England and Australia thanks to their post-Six Nations ranking of fourth in the world.

Among the second band of seeds are Scotland, France, South Africa and Wales.

The men in green had a day to remember when paired with France last time around, beating them 24-9 in Cardiff to top the pool, but have lost their most recent meetings with Scotland, Wales and South Africa.

And while forecasting form more than two years in advance is something of a fruitless exercise, there is a familiar foe lurking in the third group of seeds ready to make a pool of death.

Argentina, who knocked Ireland out in the last eight of 2015, have found their way into the third tier having fallen to ninth in the world, and are joined by Japan, Georgia and Italy.

The Pumas are the team everyone will look to avoid, with coaches likely to remember England crashing out of their own World Cup 17 months ago having been drawn alongside Australia and Wales, who were then the third seeds, as well as Fiji and Uruguay.

While there will be 20 teams split into four pools of five at Asia's first ever Rugby World Cup, only 12 have qualified at this stage with the final eight to be decided in the coming months.

Meanwhile, South Africa are still in the running to host the 2023 edition of the tournament.

The Springboks are hoping to beat Ireland and France to be named hosts, with a decision due to be made in November.

The South African government had withdrawn support for the bid last year, instructing the union, as well as those in charge of cricket, netball and athletics in the country, to promote a greater racial diversity.

In a statement issued by South African Rugby, new Sports Minister Thulas Nxesi said: "I would like to congratulate rugby, cricket and netball on their improved scores, you were clearly willing to walk the extra mile.

"Their right to bid for and host major sporting events, which was revoked before, is hereby immediately reinstated.

"But we would like to re-emphasise our expectations for sporting federations to take charge and provide leadership at school and club levels."

Speaking from Tokyo, Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, said: "This is great news and a tribute to the work that the sport has been doing in recent years to stay in tune and relevant to modern South Africa.

"We can now put the finishing touches to what we believe will be an outstanding bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

"We have kept the ministry up to speed with our thinking and state of preparation throughout the suspension and continue to enjoy an excellent relationship with our sports leaders."

South Africa last hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1995, while it would be a first for Ireland.

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