Rugby World Cup host England will have to get past two-time winner Australia and Six Nations champions Wales in the 2015 event after the teams were grouped in today’s draw in London.
The trio will be in Pool A in the four-yearly tournament, along with two teams yet to qualify. England and Australia met in the 1991 and 2003 World Cup finals, while Wales reached the semifinals last year.
“Those two sides are going to be extremely tough,” England coach Stuart Lancaster told reporters. “Wales we know very well and Australia’s track record in the World Cup is known to everyone.”
The top three teams in each of the four groups at last year’s World Cup in New Zealand automatically qualified for England 2015, with the final eight teams coming from global qualifying tournaments. The 12 teams in today’s draw were seeded according to the current International Rugby Board world rankings.
Defending champion New Zealand, which 14 months ago won its first title in 24 years, was drawn with Argentina and Tonga in Pool C. Two-time champion South Africa, Samoa and Scotland are in Pool B, with 2011 runner-up France, Ireland and Italy in Pool D in the 20-team championship.
Seven of the remaining places will come from qualifying tournaments and will be filled by two teams each from Europe and the Americas, and one each from Africa, Asia, Oceania. The final place will go to the winner of a playoff between teams from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa.
The draw came two days after fifth-ranked England upset No. 1 New Zealand 38-21 in its final autumn Test match at Twickenham in London. The victory ended the All Blacks’ 20-match unbeaten run and was England’s first over the world champion since 2003.
England beat Australia on its home field in the 2003 final in Sydney, while the Wallabies won the title in 1991 and 1999. Australia defeated England 20-14 on Nov. 17 as part of its autumn European tour.
Wales followed its World Cup success by winning this year’s Six Nations in a Grand Slam sweep. The Welsh dropped all three of their autumn Tests, including a last-minute loss to Australia two days ago, to fall to No. 9 in the world rankings. That meant they’d be drawn with two strong teams.
“We put ourselves in this position and situation,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said. “Our experience of 2011 is that if you come out of a tough group, it sets you up for the quarterfinals and semifinals. The tougher the group, the better.”
Though England and Wales play every year in the Six Nations, they’ve never been pooled together in the world championship.
“When you play a derby it adds a little bit more spice and intensity to the game,” England captain Chris Robshaw said. “It will be great for the tournament as both sets of fans are passionate.”
The winner of Group A will play the runner-up in Group B in the quarterfinals. The winner of that game would not have to face New Zealand until the final, should the All Blacks win their pool as expected.
The other quarterfinals will have the second place from Group A taking on the Group B winner, the top team from Group C meeting the Group D runner-up and the Group D winner playing Group C’s No. 2 team.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off Sept. 18, with the final being played Oct. 31.
2105 Rugby World Cup Pool Draw: Pool A: Australia, England, Wales, Oceania 1, Playoff Winner Pool B: South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, Asia 1, Americas 2 Pool C: New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Europe 1, Africa 1 Pool D: France, Ireland, Italy, Americas 1, Europe 2