Ireland hoping to avoid pool of death in this morning's 2019 Rugby World Cup draw
IRELAND will be among the 20 nations represented in Japan today to discover their fate for the 2019 Rugby World Cup when the pool stage draw is made.
Joe Schmidt's side will be among the top seeds for the draw, which will begin at 9am BST.
They will be hoping to avoid the Group of Death that fell last time upon hosts England, who were dumped out at the pool stage of their own tournament when they suffered defeats to Wales and Australia.
Ireland's status among the top eight seeds was briefly looking under threat last autumn but November wins over New Zealand and Australia helped ease any worries.
And while the Six Nations didn't exactly go to plan, the final day win over Grand Slam-chasing England was enough to help secure a place in band one alongside Eddie Jones's side.
They will be joined by reigning back-to-back champions New Zealand, who have shown no signs of letting up since retaining the Webb Ellis trophy for the first time in their history.
The final team in band one will be Australia, who were beaten by the All Blacks in the Twickenham decider two years ago but have struggled to keep pace since.
Band two will contain resurgent duo France and Scotland, both of whom had improved Six Nations campaigns in the spring of this year.
Guy Noves's plan for Les Bleus looks to be taking a bit of shape as they enjoyed a top-half finish for the first time since 2011, and came close to an upset against England on the opening weekend.
Scotland have made tangible progress under Vern Cotter, who stepped down after that Six Nations campaign, and will be hoping to build on that under Gregor Townsend, who begins life as head coach with a summer tour that includes games with Italy, Australia and Fiji.
They will be joined in band two by South Africa – whose best remembered contribution to the last World Cup was losing to Japan in arguably the biggest shock of all time – and a Wales side that had an indifferent spring under Rob Howley.
Warren Gatland will resume his duties once the British & Irish Lions tour is complete and they will be hopeful of repeating some strong World Cup performances from the last two tournaments, most notably in reaching the semi-final in 2011.
That was at the expense of Ireland, whom they beat in the quarter-final. Schmidt's injury-ravaged side then lost at the same stage to Argentina four years later to continue an unwanted hoodoo of never having reached a semi-final.
The Pumas were the tier one nation that missed out on the top two bands for this morning's draw after a disappointing November series, with defeats to Scotland, Wales and England leaving them outside the top eight in the world rankings.
Despite an average run of form and a struggle to compete in the Rugby Championship since 2015, they will be the team that none of the top eight wants to see in their pool.
Hosts Japan, following their stunning performance two years ago under now-England boss Jones, will be hoping for a kind draw alongside Fiji and Georgia, whose presence in the third band above Italy will reopen the debate over their push for entry into the Six Nations.
The final eight teams will emerge from the global qualification process, which kicked off in 2016.
The likes of Italy, Romania, Samoa, Tonga and USA will be among those likely to emerge from the qualifiers.
The tournament itself begins on September 20, 2019 in Tokyo and the final will take place in Yokohama – which hosted the 2002 football World Cup final – on November 2.