It is a measure of what Japan might offer to the rugby fraternity that even a wizened hack has a frisson of anticipation as a bag is packed for the trip to the ancient city of Kyoto for today's Rugby World Cup 2019 draw at the culturally revered State Guest House.

The significance of the event goes way beyond the ins-and-outs of "pool of death" permutations, of whether England's rise under Eddie Jones to second in the rankings can spare them the horror of what happened when the numbered balls were pulled from their glass bowls before the 2015 World Cup. In one swoop of the hand England were enmeshed in the putative misery that was eventually to envelop them.

Of course such matters are important to each of the 20 teams competing, 12 of whom have already qualified by dint of their finishing positions in the last World Cup. But if our musings are to be centred only on the random coming together of this or that pool, then we will be guilty of terrible short-sightedness.

This is a special occasion. Japan have forced their way into the brotherhood, the first country outside the traditional strongholds to host a World Cup.


This is a symbolic reaching out by the game's governing body, not just to the Asian market but to the global sporting constituency. The exotic nature of football's worldwide map has, paradoxically, dulled the senses as to what staging these events can actually mean. And, of course, it has to be said that the corruption that has attended bidding processes for football World Cups and Olympics has taken the shine off such occasions.

Rugby is different because it is a relatively small, self-contained sport. Grandiose claims are often made on its behalf as to this or that billionth TV viewer being seduced but, by comparison with football, the sport has limited parameters. From the first World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 1987, the tournament has been passed among familiar allies, a Masonic exchange of long-standing obligations. England in 1991, South Africa in 1995, back to the Five Nations four years later with Wales as designated hosts, and on and on.

This, though, is the breakout moment, the point at which the game indicates it is no longer a hidebound sport with a well-established, immutable hierarchy. Rather it can present itself as an outward-looking, inclusive institution, one that is prepared to seek new horizons. Or that is the opportunity.

That sense of growth and expansion has long been a characteristic of the sevens circuit, where countries as diverse as Kenya, Portugal, Russia, Papua New Guinea and Holland are regular performers.

The Olympic imprimatur gave sevens status and projection. Fiji's gold medal in Rio, the first won by that country in any sport, was the glorious vindication of the project.

Of course, Japan has its own rich tradition of rugby, its roots dating back to the 19th century. But taking the tournament there is a risk as the Japanese rugby community is not used to staging events of this magnitude. All the previous hosts had plenty of experience in organising big test matches, be it Six Nations Championships, Super Rugby finals, Lions tours, all played invariably in custom-built stadiums.

Admirable as the planning and execution of RWC 2015 was, it followed a well-worn pathway.

So, bravo, Japan. There have already been hiccups with the potentially devastating decision by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to halt the construction of the showpiece National Olympic Stadium for the 2020 Games in Tokyo because of spiralling costs.

The move took World Rugby by surprise but it held its nerve, even if issuing a sharp rebuke, and contingency arrangements are in place.

New Zealand All Blacks perform a haka after winning the Rugby World Cup Final. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand All Blacks perform a haka after winning the Rugby World Cup Final. Photo / Brett Phibbs

There are 12 locations, from Sapporo in the north to Kumamoto in the south with the final at the Yokohama International Stadium, venue for the 2002 Fifa World Cup final between Brazil and Germany.

The logistics, and certainly travel on the sleek, modernist transport systems, ought to be straightforward even accepting language difficulties. Fans tend to have their own means of communication, with , beer-quaffing motion a universal coda.

As ever, there were financial considerations to be factored in when awarding the tournament to Japan. The country will not generate the sums delivered from the 2015 event in England. The Rugby Football Union paid a guarantee of 80m for hosting rights and had a bonanza return in returning revenues of 228.1m. There were 2.47 million tickets sold, with the stadiums at 98 per cent capacity across the six-week tournament. Big figures, hard act to beat. And Japan should not try to. The 2019 World Cup has to have its own flavour, its own dynamic.

Rugby World Cup is the main driver of income for World Rugby. The profits are ploughed back into the sport to develop the game globally and to spread the word. Yet the missionary purpose of hosting the tournament in Japan outweighs commercial considerations, as it did when awarding the event to New Zealand in 2011. There was a 50 per cent increase in revenue in 2015. If money were the only criteria for success then the event should only ever be staged in England or France.

Japan brought so much colour and drama to the 2015 RWC through their exploits, beating South Africa in heart-seizure fashion at the Community Stadium in Brighton, and defeating Samoa as well as the US, that there is plenty of goodwill towards them.

Jones was in charge then. Today will have eyes only for the numbered balls designating England and their future opponents.

The world's eyes, though, will be on Japan, a pioneering presence.

At a glance


The draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup will determine which nations will play one another in each in the pools at rugby's global showpiece in two years' time and will consist of 20 nations divided into four pools of five teams.


8pm tonight (New Zealand time).


The draw will be held at the Kyoto State Guest House in Kyoto, Japan - the first time ever it will be held outside of the UK and Ireland.


The draw will be streamed live at from 8pm (NZT).


The top three teams from each of the four pools at the 2015 RWC have been seeded into three bands based on where they currently sit on the World Rugby Rankings. The four highest ranked of these 12 teams have been placed in Band 1, the next four highest ranked sides have been put into Band 2, and the remaining four direct qualifiers are all in Band 3.
Band 1 (4): New Zealand (1), England (2), Australia (3), Ireland (4).
Band 2 (4): Scotland (5), France (6), South Africa (7), Wales (8).
Band 3 (4): Argentina (9), Japan (11), Georgia (12), Italy (15).


The remaining eight sides to take part will be determined through the global qualification process, which began in March last year and will conclude in November 2018. These teams will be divided into Bands 4 and 5 and will be drawn alongside the 12 countries to have qualified automatically. In order to ensure the strength of each pool is evenly balanced, one team will be drawn at random from each band and placed into one pool. This means that every pool will have one team from each band.

Oceania (2): Top two teams from the 2016-17 Pacific Nations Cup between Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

Europe (1): Winner of the 2017-18 Rugby Europe Championship (currently led by Romania).

Americas (2): The winner of a two-legged play-off between the USA and Canada next month, as well as the winner of a two-legged play-off between the loser (from USA v Canada) and the winner of the 2017 South American Rugby Championship.
Africa (1): The winner of the 2018 Africa Cup.

Play-off winner (1): The winner of a two-legged play-off between the loser of the 2016-17 Pacific Nations Cup and the second-placed team from the Rugby Europe Championship (currently Tonga and Spain).

Repechage winner (1): Winner of a knockout series between the best sides from the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Asia/Oceania play-off (a two-legged play-off between the winner of the 2018 Asia Rugby Championship and the winner of the 2017 Oceania Rugby Cup).


The All Blacks head into the draw with the prospect of having to face two of their Rugby Championship rivals (South Africa and Argentina) in 2019's pool stage as both countries are in Bands 2 and 3 as the seventh and ninth ranked sides in the world. As one of the most traditional rivals the All Blacks compete against, the Springboks would probably be the team they would least likely want to play from Band 2, despite the Boks producing their worst ever season last year. The Pumas are easily the most threatening side the All Blacks could be drawn with from Band 3.

Best case scenario:

New Zealand draw Wales from Band 2 and Georgia from Band 3.

Worst case scenario:

New Zealand draw South Africa from Band 2, and Argentina from Band 3.