The pools for the 2015 Rugby World Cup have been drawn.
With the matches starting on the 18 September 2015 there is plenty of time to chew over potential big clashes and gives teams a chance to set goals for where they need to be by the time the biggest prize in world rugby rolls into town.
So let’s take a look at who gets who and some of the key battles we can look forward to:
Yes, it’s already been dubbed the ‘Pool of Death’ and the group that has got the bulk of attention since being drawn this afternoon. Take your pick for big grudge clashes between England, Wales and Australia, but with the World Cup being held in England, the big one will be England v Wales at Twickenham (unless the WRU get their way to play at the Millennium). It promises to be a great battle between three teams who will believe they can all top the Pool. Fiji could potentially make an appearance here too.
This is where our hopes lie. Tough, but it could have been worse. The benefit is that whoever Scotland’s next coach is will have a focused aim of getting second place in this pool. This pool might even be an enticement into the job. We have just over two years to make sure our ranking improves and that we are at a better level than Samoa which won’t be easy considering their improvement. But it can be done, and should be our target. I wouldn’t be surprised if we took a scalp over South Africa between now and the World Cup as well which would be a psychological boost. At the last World Cup South Africa almost lost to Wales in the pools, and Samoa mostly failed to turn up. If that happens again Scotland would do well to capitalise. Neutral favourites Japan and Canada (more likely the USA) could well make an appearance, which with games held in England could mean not entirely friendly home crowds.
The tasty clash here will be between New Zealand and Argentina. Could an upset be on the cards if the Pumas have three years of Rugby Championship experience under their belts? That might be a bit of a stretch, and the All Blacks and Argentina should be confident of easing their way through this group. Romania are likely to make it in, not that that will make things worrying for the top two.
To me, this could be a fantastic group, and certainly might throw up the tightest finish and most intriguing battles. France, Ireland and Italy could all beat each other on their day, similar to the situation in Pool A. Ireland will fancy their chances of topping this group should their exciting youngsters continue to break through as France might be a bit shaky playing in England. Beware of the Italians though, they will certainly be fired up to upset their Six Nations peers and secure a first Quarter Final appearance.
Winner Pool B v Runner-up Pool A
Winner Pool C v Runner-up Pool D
Winner Pool A v Runner-up Pool B
Winner Pool D v Runner-up Pool C
There are of course eight remaining places to be filled after qualifiers. This is expected to be finalised by the end of 2014.
What do you make of Scotland’s draw and their chances? And what matches are going to provide the best moments of the pool stages?