Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said it is ‘incredibly exciting to draw the host nation’ as he reacted to today’s Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool Draw which took place in the beautiful Kyoto State Guest House.
Tournament hosts Japan, Scotland, the Europe 1 qualifiers and the Play-Off 1 winners will provide the opposition for Pool A’s top seeds Ireland, who were knocked out of the last World Cup by Argentina at the quarter-final stage.
Next month’s two-Test tour of Japan will give Joe Schmidt’s men an immediate opportunity to run the rule over one of their pool opponents and get used to both the Japanese culture and playing conditions.
Japan have played seven matches since New Zealander Jamie Joseph has come on board as head coach, including recent wins over Korea (twice) and Hong Kong. They went down 54-20 to Argentina in early November but then ran Wales very close in Cardiff, losing 33-30, and were beaten 38-25 by Fiji in their final autumn international of 2016.
Giving his assessment of the Brave Blossoms, Schmidt said: “I think the Japanese national team have really progressed in a short term, and even going back probably two or three years. I think June is going to be very tough for us. This draw today will spark a real interest because people will want an entree of what will be a main meal in two-and-a-bit years’ time.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Jamie Joseph – he’s a scary man! I think he’ll bring a real energy to the group. I know some of his coaching staff too. Together, they will be very, very effective in progressing the team further.
“I’ve been watching the Sunwolves play (in the Super Rugby competition) recently, I thought their win over the Bulls was super and some of their stand-out players have really come on further and further. I think June will be complicated for us and I think that’s probably a good indication of what will come in two years’ time as well.”
It will be interesting to see how Japan develop under Joseph’s tutelage, and the same goes for Scotland whose new head coach Gregor Townsend will have his first Test against Conor O’Shea’s Italy in Singapore next month.
As things currently stand in the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification process which ends in November 2018, it looks like Ireland’s other pool opponents could be Romania and Tonga.
Schmidt added: “It’s very hard to assess where teams are going to be in two years’ time. We’ve seen the upward curve that Japan have taken in recent times – they got very close to beating Wales in the Millennium Stadium last autumn and obviously their heroics in the last World Cup were pretty spectacular.
“I think the European qualifiers could be Romania most likely – we’ll obviously need to be on our mettle (against them). Lastly (for the play-off winners), it could be Tonga or Samoa or Fiji depending on how that works out, because they’ve traditionally got through and got really strong representation in the previous World Cups.
“We lost to Scotland recently, so it’s a mixed bag (of a draw), but I think it’s incredibly exciting to draw the host nation. I think the crowd, the enthusiasm and the interest in that game is going to be huge.”