Tokyo - Rugby's leading nations will be hoping for a big
slice of luck at Wednesday's 2019 Rugby World Cup draw, where seedings stacked
with dangerous teams could throw up more than one 'Pool of Death'.
More than two years before the tournament in Japan, the draw
ceremony in historic Kyoto could go a long way to deciding who will lift the
trophy in Yokohama on November 2, 2019.
England fell victim to a nightmare scenario at the last
World Cup, where the hosts failed to reach the knock-out stages after being
drawn against Wales, Australia, Fiji and Uruguay.
This time around, for the tournament's first edition in
Asia, New Zealand, England, Australia and Ireland make up the top seeds to be
divided among the four pools of five.
The second band of seeds is Scotland, Wales, South Africa
and France, while the third contains dangerous floaters in Argentina, the 2015
semi-finalists, Georgia, Italy and hosts Japan.
Another eight teams from Oceania, Europe, the Americas and
Africa will be added after qualifying, with 10th-ranked Fiji, Tonga and Samoa
among the leading contenders.
It raises the possibility of New Zealand, the two-time
defending champions, South Africa, Argentina and Samoa all landing in the same
pool, along with a host of other treacherous combinations.
A strong showing by Japan is considered crucial for
attendances and atmosphere as the World Cup arrives, for the first time, in a
country where rugby isn't a mainstream sport.
But the Brave Blossoms, who stunned South Africa at the last
World Cup, are bullish, with wing Akihito Yamada saying he hoped to draw
England and their ex-Japan coach Eddie Jones.
"I'd like to get Eddie's team, England. I want him to
see Japan's new style of rugby after four years," insisted Yamada.
Captain Shota Horie said: "All the teams will be strong
so I don't have any real preferred opposition. The first game will be key so we
will prepare for that as if our lives depend on it."
Steve Hansen's New Zealand are striving to complete a
hat-trick of World Cup victories, while England, up to second in the rankings
under Jones, are dreaming of ending the All Blacks' dominance.
South Africa, Australia, Wales and France are likely to be
revamped and revitalised by 2019, while Argentina and Japan will look to build
on their successes of 2015.
Rugby is striving to make inroads into Asia, including
China, where World Rugby announced a $100 million investment from Alisports, an
offshoot of e-commerce giant Alibaba, last year.
Participation in Asia has almost doubled since 2009 to more
than 50 000 players, according to the governing body, which hopes to have one
million new players in the region by 2019.
The World Cup will be played in 12 stadiums across Japan, with 75 percent of the population living within an hour's drive from a match venue, organisers say.
Seedings for Wednesday's draw
Band One: New Zealand, England, Australia, Ireland
Band Two: Scotland, Wales, South Africa, France
Band Three: Argentina, Japan, Georgia, Italy
Band Four: Oceania 1, Americas 1, Europe 1, Africa 1
Band Five: Oceania 2, Americas 2, Winner of play-off between Europe 2 and Oceania 3, Repechage Winner