Hosts Japan will face Ireland, Scotland, the Europe 1 qualifier and Play-off winner in the pool phase of Rugby World Cup 2019 as the official draw delivered the promise of some fascinating fixtures. And in what was a major boost for the event, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, was guest of honour at the draw, which took place in the historic city of Kyoto on Wednesday.
Demonstrating how important Rugby World Cup 2019 is to the government and people of Japan, Prime Minister Abe gave his full support to the tournament and led a stellar group of dignitaries who drew the teams into their pools for rugby’s showpiece event.
Speaking at the beautiful Kyoto State Guest House where the draw took place, Prime Minister Abe declared that his nation was ready to welcome the world: “Rugby World Cup 2019, the first time this great sporting event is to be held in Asia, will be the perfect chance for us to showcase the sport’s appeal to the rest of Asia, home to over half the world’s population.
“I promise that Japan will provide the very best for the players and that an enthusiasm befitting the name of the Rugby World Cup pervades the entire nation. Amid all the thrills and excitement expected, we intend to make the tournament one that will live on in the memories of people around the world. The Japanese people will be united in welcoming you all with our greatest spirit of hospitality.
“Among the host cities will be Kamaishi and Kumamoto, both hit in recent years by disastrous earthquakes. I have confidence that the children in these stricken areas will gain inspiration from the games that will contribute greatly to their emotional growth as well as to further reconstruction of these areas.”
Beaumont added: “The scene is now set for what we fully expect to be a fantastic Rugby World Cup here in Japan. The draw has handed us some potentially great match-ups that will no doubt deliver the sort of excitement and passion that we have come to expect from this tournament over the years.
“I would like to thank the Prime Minister for attending this important milestone for the tournament and for once again pledging his support and commitment to making Rugby World Cup 2019 a special occasion for the people of Japan and, indeed, throughout the continent of Asia.”
Pool A: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Europe 1, Play-off winner
Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Africa 1, Repechage winner
Pool C: England, France, Argentina, Americas 1, Oceania 2
Pool D: Australia, Wales, Georgia, Oceania 1, Americas 2
Japan’s hosting ambition is to capture hearts and minds with an exceptional, welcoming event, the draw was evidence that anticipation is already gathering momentum with audible gasps as the draw unfolded in front of the head coaches and representatives of the 12 automatically qualified teams as well as the host cities and Japanese rugby community.
Japan, who shocked the world by beating South Africa at England 2015, face a tough task on home soil, but head coach Jamie Joseph is confident of a best-ever performance in two years’ time.
Joseph said: “Any pool that we were going to get put in was going to be a big challenge. But now there’s some certainly around it, we can start our planning and we’re really looking forward to it. I think we’re fortunate in that we play Ireland in June so that’ll give the players a good understanding about that team because Japan haven’t beaten Ireland or Scotland to date so we know that the challenge is going to be big. There is still a long time to go, we are still a couple of years away, and I guess all teams are blooding some young players who are coming through so it’s going to be really exciting.”
Champions New Zealand will face South Africa for the first time in the pool stages in the eye-catching match of the draw, while Ireland and Scotland will come face-to-face on the RWC stage for the first time since 1991 in Pool A. Australia, winners in 1991 and 1999, and Wales have been drawn with an opponent they have never faced before in Georgia. RWC 2015 hosts England, France and Argentina find themselves in what many will consider the toughest pool.
In the quarter-finals, the Pool A winner will face the Pool B runner-up, the Pool B winner the Pool A runner-up, the Pool C winner the Pool D runner-up and the Pool D winner the Pool C runner-up.
Alongside Prime Minister Abe in those who conducted the draw itself were World Rugby Chairman and Hall of Famer Bill Beaumont; Steve Hansen, head coach of reigning champions New Zealand; Saori Yoshida, a champion wrestler and one of Japan’s greatest Olympians; Fumiko Hayashi, Mayor of Yokahama City where the final will be held; and Yoshihiro Sakata, Japan rugby legend and World Rugby Hall of Famer. In addition, the head of the Host City Council for Japan 2019, head coaches and other high-profile representatives of the 12 directly qualified teams were in attendance to witness the draw and give their reaction afterwards.
Beaumont added: “With a global audience watching on television and via social media streaming, the draw marks the moment when the event truly comes alive for players and fans. Conversations online, in clubhouses and in the media for the next two years will focus on this pool draw as we build towards what will be a very special Rugby World Cup.”
With the draw completed, the detailed match schedule development can begin matching big fixtures to the biggest venues to ensure that the tournament is as accessible as possible for Japanese and global fans. It is anticipated that the match schedule will be announced around the two years to go celebrations in September.
Find out more details of the regional qualification process HERE.
The timing of the draw two years out from Rugby World Cup 2019 enables Japan Rugby 2019 to develop the match schedule in association with all stakeholders and provide teams with an appropriate lead-in time to maximise planning and preparation.
Fans can sign-up to the Rugby World Cup Supporters' Club HERE.
Building on the record-breaking success of the England 2015 event, Japan 2019 aims to deliver a very special event that will connect and engage a nation and the world through sport and friendship.
Twelve venues the length and breadth of the nation and a family of engaged and excited host cities and team camps will provide the framework for an unprecedented nationwide celebration of rugby, friendship and Japanese culture.
Rugby World Cup 2019 will be Japan’s biggest sporting event in more than a decade, and with 75 per cent of the population living within an hour of a match venue, there is an opportunity for everyone to experience and be a part of one of the most popular sporting events on the planet.
Optimising participant and fan-base growth in Japan is central to the organising committee and Japan Rugby Football Union’s tournament objectives. More than 60,000 fans have already signed up to join the Supporters’ Club, which launched in September 2016 and provides an advance opportunity to access ticketing information.
And with rugby participation growing at record pace in Asia, the Japan Rugby Football Union, Asia Rugby and World Rugby will launch its IMPACT Beyond programme in May, outlining a joint pledge to attract, inspire and retain one million new players across the world’s most populous region.