KYOTO – Host nation Japan was drawn to face Ireland, Scotland and two teams yet to qualify in the group stage of the 2019 Rugby World Cup at a lavish ceremony at Kyoto State Guest House on Wednesday.
Japan, which will become the first country outside of rugby’s traditional heartlands to host the competition when it kicks off at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium on Sept. 20, 2019, has appeared in all eight previous editions but has never made it past the first round.
Neither Ireland nor Scotland has won the World Cup, but Ireland has reached the quarterfinals six times and Scotland has reached the semifinals once and the quarterfinals on six occasions. Only the top two teams from each of the four five-team groups qualify for the quarterfinals.
“I think any pool that we were going to be drawn in was going to be a big challenge,” said Japan head coach Jamie Joseph. “Now there is some certainty around it, we can start our planning and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Japan has never beaten Ireland or Scotland in its history. The Brave Blossoms have lost to Scotland three times at the World Cup — including a 45-10 defeat at the 2015 tournament in England — and Ireland twice.
The remaining two teams in Japan’s Pool A will be a qualifier from Europe and the winner of the qualifying playoff.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a welcome speech amid the genteel surroundings of the iconic Kyoto venue, as organizers pulled out all the stops to promote Asia’s first Rugby World Cup.
“The whole world is watching this draw and I have never felt so fired up as I do now about my role in picking Japan’s group,” said Abe. “This is even more of a thrill than when I appeared as Super Mario at the Rio Olympics.”
Abe appeared alongside Olympic wrestling legend Saori Yoshida, World Rugby Hall of Famer Yoshihiro Sakata, Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi and New Zealand coach Steve Hansen for the draw, which was broadcast live around the world.
Defending champion New Zealand was drawn with two-time champion South Africa, Italy and two qualifiers in Pool B, while England, France and 2015 semifinalist Argentina make up the “Group of Death” in Pool C alongside two yet-to-be-determined qualifiers.
“It’s all very exciting,” said England head coach Eddie Jones, who led Japan at the 2015 World Cup. “We’ve got two tests against Argentina in June, so we can practice a little bit. France are really improving and they’re certainly a dangerous team.
“(Japan) is a unique country, a unique culture, and rugby is on the up here. So everyone is looking forward to playing the tournament here.”
Pool D features 2015 runner-up Australia, Wales, Georgia and two qualifiers.
The 12 teams involved in Wednesday’s draw automatically qualified for the 2019 tournament by virtue of finishing in the top three of their first-round groups in 2015. The remaining eight teams will be determined by a global qualification process that began in March 2016.
Twelve venues around Japan will host 48 matches over the six-week tournament leading up to the final at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium on Nov. 2, 2019.
The draw was being held 2½ years before the tournament begins to allow organizers to drum up interest in the world’s third-biggest sporting event. Organizers hope to release a full match schedule in September, with tickets going on sale as early as the new year.
Ticket sales are the host nation’s only source of income from the tournament, with the rest going to Rugby World Cup Ltd.
Rugby’s governing body, World Rugby, estimates that the tournament will bring a $2.5 billion boost to the Japanese economy.