LONDON - Tournament hosts New Zealand were drawn alongside France, the team that beat them in the quarterfinals of last year's edition, in the draw for the 2011 Rugby Union World Cup held here today.
Elsewhere old rivals England and Scotland were paired alongside one another in a World Cup pool for the first time during a draw which took place inside New Zealand Tourism's giant inflatable rugby ball on the banks of London's River Thames.
The All Blacks and France are the two top-ranked teams in a Pool A also featuring Tonga, and qualifiers still to be determined from the Americas and Asia.
England, beaten finalists last year, and Scotland are in the same Pool B as Argentina, third-placed finishers at the 2007 World Cup and, as yet, unkonown qualifiers from Europe and the winners of a global play-off competition.
Reigning champions South Africa are in a Pool D featuring Fiji, Six Nations champions Wales and qualifiers from Oceania and Africa.
Australia, who like the Springboks have won the World Cup twice, are in Pool C with Ireland, Italy and qualifiers from Europe and the Americas.
Should New Zealand, who've just completed a Grand Slam tour where they beat Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England without conceding a try, top Pool A they will face the runners-up from Pool B, potentially the most 'open' of the four qualifying groups.
"I guess there will be a fair bit of talk about the history between New Zealand and France at World Cups," said All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
"But all the groups are pretty similar and you've got to play them all at some stage. Quarterfinals are tough, as we've found out. Anything can happen in the play-off stages."
France head coach Marc Lievremont commented: "It's always difficult to play against New Zealand.
"I consider this an honour and an opportunity. We reckon that we'll finish behind New Zealand. After that it's up to us to get out of the group.
"My concern is more Tonga, America 1 and Asia 1 (France's other two rivals) rather than New Zealand."
England manager Martin Johnson, whose side have just been beaten convincingly by Australia, South Africa and New Zealand on successive weekends, downplayed suggestions his team had been lucky to avoid the Tri-Nations.
"We have got Scotland and the added passion of that game will be a fantastic draw," said Johnson, the captain of England's 2003 World Cup-winning team.
"A lot of people will say we got a good group but Argentina where number three at the last World Cup and Scotland were quarterfinalists.
Scotland coach Frank Hadden said: "We've beaten England and Argentina recently so we can go into the World Cup with some cautious optimism.
"We are very proud of our World Cup record of reaching every quarter-final."
South Africa captain John Smit said of the Springboks' draw: "Last time we were drawn against the top team from Britain - which was then England - and this time we have been drawn against Wales, who are the Six Nations champions.
"The draw has a similar feel to last time and the good thing is that we will be well tested during the competition," added Smit, who led his country to glory in a 15-6 win over England in last year's final."
Australia breezed through their pool in France last year only to lose to England in the quarterfinals.
But Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock predicted his men would be properly toughened-up were they to reach the last eight in 2011.
"Having gone through the World Cup last year, you do want to have a couple of tough matches and that's certainly what we will face against Italy and Ireland," Mortlock said.
Fiji effectively knocked Wales out of last year's World Cup by beating them in a pool match in Nantes.
"It is going to be a pretty tough group," said Wales captain Ryan Jones.
"There are some pretty physical encounters but the big positive in it is that if Wales manage to get out of the group we will be pretty battle-hardened."
As with the 2007 tournament, the top two teams from each pool will go through to the quarterfinals.
But this time the IRB's own world rankings were used to seed teams for the draw with the top four of New Zealand, Argentina, Australia and South Africa all kept apart.
The draw was conducted by Rugby World Cup chairman Bernard Lapasset and Rugby World Cup New Zealand 2011 chairman Jock Hobbs.
Lapasset said the draw would ensure competitive clashes right from the start of the tournament: "It's going to be qualifying matches from the first day. The teams are going to have to be extra vigilant."
Organisers hope to announce the match schedule in March.
RUGBY WORLD CUP POOL DRAW
Pool A: New Zealand, France, Tonga, Americas 1, Asia 1
Pool B: Argentina, England, Scotland, Europe 1, Play-off winner
Pool C: Australia, Ireland, Italy, Europe 2, Americas 2
Pool D: South Africa, Wales, Fiji, Oceania 1, Africa 1
Quarter Final 1: Winner Pool B v Runner-up Pool A
Quarter Final 2: Winner Pool C v Runner-up Pool D
Quarter Final 3: Winner Pool A v Runner-up Pool B
Quarter Final 4: Winner Pool D v Runner-up Pool C
Semi-Final 1: Winner QF1 v Winner QF2
Semi-Final 2: Winner QF3 v Winner QF4
Third place playoff: Loser SF1 v Loser SF2
Final: Winner SF1 v Winner SF2