Rugby Union

Simon Zebo affair take centre stage as draw for 2019 World Cup is made

Munster's Wing Simon Zebo, left, is tackled by Clermont Ferrand's Julien Bardy, during their Heineken Cup semi final rugby union match, at the Mosson Stadium, in Montpellier, southern France, Saturday, April 27, 2013
Staff reporter

ON the day the fixtures were revealed for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was fielding questions on why he left Simon Zebo out of the squad for this month’s autumn internationals.

Ireland will begin their Pool A campaign against Scotland on September 22 in Yokohama at 8.45am, Irish time.

Their appointment with the hosts is in Shizuoka on September 28 (8.15am), then they take a European qualifier – probably Romania or Spain – in Kobe five days later (11.15am), followed by the play-off winner at Fukuoka Stadium on October 12 (11.45am).

But it was the Zebo affair that was centre stage yesterday with Schmidt outlining the reasons why the Munster and Ireland back wasn’t included for the autumn clashes with against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina after Zebo recently announced that he would be leaving the province at the end of the season, with Paris club Racing 92 his likely destination.

Schmidt said that “no-one is ruled out’’ for Ireland but added that the emphasis was on “trying to encourage guys to come back.’’

Speaking to RTÉ Sport, Schmidt pointed out that fans of Irish rugby at home are the people the IRFU are trying to protect.

“We want to encourage guys to come back. They grow up a bit, get a bit of experience overseas and sometimes that’s positive in their development.

“It’s not a done-deal as far as somebody not being able to play for Ireland from outside of the country, but one of the massive risks in allowing people into the national team from outside of the country is that it would allow other people to do the same thing.

“The people we are really trying to support are the people who support us – the people who want to see their local heroes playing for their province week-in, week-out. We try to manage that as best we can.

Meanwhile the 2019 Rugby World Cup tournament’s 48 games will be spread across 12 cities, with each venue hosting a minimum of two matches.

Yokohama’s International Stadium stages four pool matches, in addition to both semi-finals, and then the final on November 2.

After tackling Ireland, Scotland meet the yet to be decided play-off winners in Kobe on September 30, then go to Shizuoka to tackle the European qualifiers, before on October 13 facing Japan, who play in the tournament’s opening game against the European qualifiers on September 20.

Pool D challengers Wales tackle Georgia first-up at the City of Toyota Stadium on September 23.

England will face a four-day turnaround and a two-hour flight between their opening games.

The match schedule sees England begin their quest for a first world title since 2003 against Tonga in Sapporo on September 22.

They then face the United States 660 miles south of Sapporo on September 26 in Kobe, before a longer preparation period takes them into pivotal Pool C fixtures against Argentina in Tokyo on October 5 and then France a week later in Yokohama.

The 2019 match schedule was announced in Japan yesterday, with the opening round of pool fixture clashes also featuring a heavyweight clash between reigning world champions New Zealand and their Rugby Championship rivals South Africa.

Wales’ potentially-pivotal encounter against Australia is in Tokyo on September 29. Wales, World Cup semi-finalists six years ago, then meet Fiji in Oita on October 9, followed by the Americas 2 qualifier, possibly Canada, at Kumamoto Stadium four days later.

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