After the pool draw for 2023 was made in Paris, Scotland and Ireland are on a collision course for a second consecutive Rugby World Cup.
Last year, Ireland triumphed in Japan, while Scotland was eliminated in the group round.
And this time, they also have the enormous challenge of facing South Africa, the world champions, who have been drawn in Pool B as the top seed.
Qualifiers from Asia/Pacific and Europe round out the party.
In contrast, England, who were beaten by South Africa in the 2019 final, have a reasonably manageable pool.
In Pool D, head coach Eddie Jones will face his former team Japan – he led them to a famous win over South Africa at the 2015 tournament – Argentina and Oceania 1 and Americas 2 qualifiers.
When Jones’ men prevailed 39-10 in Tokyo, Argentina was also in England’s group last year.
The effect of the coronavirus pandemic on international rugby this year led to the teams being seeded 11 months ago based on World Rugby’s official rankings, as some teams, including South Africa and Japan, have yet to compete in 2020.
As they were among the top seeds, Wales, which fell from fourth to ninth in this year’s rankings, was one of the countries to gain.
The team of Wayne Pivac will find themselves in almost the same category as in 2019, when they won the tournament before losing to South Africa and advanced to the semifinals.
Australia and Fiji, along with the Europe 1 qualifier – probably Georgia – are confirmed opponents in Pool C and the winner of the last qualifying tournament, possibly Uruguay.
Fourth-place Wales will join Japan in an equal five-team pool in 2019 if those countries hold the two qualifying places.
Wales was also drawn in the same division as Fiji for the fifth consecutive World Cup.
For the prospective top match of the pool stage and a potential tournament opener, hosts France face New Zealand in Pool A.
The category is finished by Italy and qualifiers from North and South America 1 and Africa 1.
In 2011, France last reached the World Cup final and never won the competition, but their continued upswing under coach Fabien Galthie makes them one of the favorites in the tournament.
The French should also note, however, that three-time world champions New Zealand have a flawless World Cup pool record, having won all 31 of their matches.
Galthie said, “It will be a difficult group. New Zealand has won three World Championships, so they are always dangerous.”
The 10th edition of the tournament will take place at nine venues throughout France from Sept. 8 to Oct. 21, 2023.