The draw in Kyoto yesterday for the 2019 RWC sees the All Blacks in line to face their old adversaries and South Africa.

For the sixth time in nine World Cups we will be facing the Italians in pool play. Throw into the mix the historical might of South Africa and I think Steve Hansen will be very pleased.

Due to the form of South Africa over the past 12 months, there was always a chance we would draw them.

It was almost a given that we would be meeting the Italians, a team we have a strangely rich World Cup history with. No one will ever forget THAT try from Kirwan almost 30 years to the day in the opening game of the 1987 edition.

And for good measure, it is worth re-watching it, simply brilliant.

The balance of the pool is a good one for the All Blacks. The Italians are well coached by Conor O’Shea, and although it is unlikely* an upset will occur it will be a solid test. Let’s not forget the Italians would have just completed their 20th season in the Six Nations and will come battle-hardened.

* this is not intended to be arrogant, but rugby tends to be short on surprise, with the odd beautiful exception.

The South Africans, on the other hand, have every chance of being the first team to beat an All Blacks side in pool play. This will excite the coaches, much like the England pool matches of ’91 and ’99 did, and more recently, the French in 2011.

A match against the Boks is one we all look forward to, and will provide the All Blacks with some much needed, real-life game pressure before the knock-out phase commences.

KYOTO, JAPAN - MAY 10:  (L-R) Conor O'Shea, Head Coach of Italy, Allister Coetzee, Head Coach of South Africa and Steve Hansen, Head Coach of New Zealand pose during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool Draw at the Kyoto State Guest House on May 10, 2017 in Kyoto, Japan.  (Photo by Dave Rogers - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)
KYOTO, JAPAN – MAY 10: (L-R) Conor O’Shea, Head Coach of Italy, Allister Coetzee, Head Coach of South Africa and Steve Hansen, Head Coach of New Zealand pose during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool Draw at the Kyoto State Guest House on May 10, 2017 in Kyoto, Japan. (Photo by Dave Rogers – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

It was this real-life game pressure that we heard so much about after 2007 and then before 2015. In the aftermath of 2007, there was a lot of talk about how the All Blacks had not been tested in pool play. Yes, they played Six Nations opponents Italy and Scotland. Sadly though the Scots decided to play a rather eclectic mix of players that day.

In 2015 they were better prepared. Argentina was first up and provided an incredibly physical match. What followed was Namibia, Georgia, and Tonga and it was interesting to watch how Hansen had his men approach these matches. From the sidelines, the matches often looked disjointed as the All Blacks were clearly testing patterns, plays, and systems. Well, there will be none of that in 2019, certainly not against the Italians or the Boks. That South African match could be one for the ages. How I would love to be in the crowd that day!

Quick stats

  • The All Blacks have played the Italians 5 times in pool play at World Cups. The next most common opponent in pool play is Tonga, with four matches.
  • All five matches have gone the way of New Zealand with an average score of 70-12.
  • The closest match between the two teams was at Welford Road in 1991, a 31-21 result. The biggest victory was again in England, this time in 1999 with a 101-3 victory in Huddersfield.
  • South Africa and New Zealand have never met in pool play
  • The ledger between the two teams is currently 2 games a piece in World Cups with an average score of 20-16 in favour of the All Blacks

As for the rest of the draw, it looks like this:

The big noise, as you would expect, is around England drawing the 9th seed again. They famously drew Wales, who were ranked in 9th spot for the 2015 World Cup draw. Wales then went on to even more famously help knock the hosts out of their own World Cup. This cost Stuart Lancaster and a number of others their jobs.

The question is, what will Eddie Jones be thinking?

I think it is fair to say that he will be nervous and excited in equal measure. As we all know, the French can turn up, and turn up well on any day. The Argentinians are twice World Cup semi-finalists. Add to that the experience of four seasons in Super Rugby and eight in the Rugby Championship; they will not go down without a fight.

The pool of death? I think so, one huge team will be going home early!

Ireland and Scotland will be looking at the Japanese with trepidation. Giant slayers in Brighton and this time with feverish home support, the Japanese will not just be there to make up the numbers. The loss of Vern Cotter back to France is starting to look more and more nightmarish for Scotland. Watch this space because if Scotland don’t keep their improving trajectory going, they will be very nervous.

Australia and Wales again face each other in a repeat of the 2015 World Cup. Georgia will provide ample opposition up front; however, it is unlikely we will see an upset in this pool. How good would it be though?

With 863 days to go, the countdown is on.

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Author: Steven Prescott

I am a total sports fanatic; it is as simple as that. I love all sports, and when I’m not sitting at my computer living my dream with The 1014, I am planning adventures. The last time I did this I ended up convincing my wife to cycle 26,125km across three continents, and 22 countries with me as part of the Pedalling Prescotts.

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