The draw, made in London on Monday, effectively marks the beginning of the rugby world's qualification cycle (Image | Getty)

The draw, made in London on Monday, effectively marks the beginning of the rugby world’s qualification cycle. (Image | Getty)

On Monday afternoon in London, the world’s rugby union representatives met to distribute 20 teams across the four groups that will form the first round of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The draw was somewhat kind on Scotland, who drew arguably the weakest side in Band 2, while hosts England will face defeated 2011 finalists Australia and Wales in their group. Each group features three of rugby’s 12 ‘Tier 1’ sides, who are guaranteed a place at the World Cup, and two spots available to qualifiers, who we have attempted to predict.

The pool stages will be as follows (predictions in brackets):

Pool A: Australia, England, Wales, Oceania 1 (almost certainly Fiji), Playoff Winner (probably Spain or Russia)

Pool B: South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, Asia 1 (probably Japan), Americas 2 (probably USA)

Pool C: New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Europe 1 (probably Georgia), Africa 1 (probably Namibia or Zimbabwe)

Pool D: France, Ireland, Italy, Americas 1 (probably Canada), Europe 2 (likely Romania)

Group A looks to be carrying the “group of death” tag at this stage, with three of the game’s giants alongside probable Oceania playoff winners Fiji, who have always been something of a wild card in the past. The odds are stacked against the playoff winner, essentially a “best of the rest” team who will not qualify in the usual fashion, instead playing a number of repechage rounds against other teams from around the world that came close to winning their qualifying competitions. On current form this should be either Spain or Russia, although Portugal, Uruguay and even Belgium are all in with an outside chance.

Headed by the formidable presence of 2007 champions South Africa and the ever-improving Samoa, group B could prove tough for Scotland, currently languishing at the bottom of the seeded nations. Japan will almost certainly join them as champions of the Asian Five Nations; with the USA probably qualify as the second team from the Americas.

Group C features reigning champions New Zealand as well as Argentina, who have a solid record in this competition. Tonga are the third seeded nation in the group; Georgia should earn a place as champions of the European Nations Cup having won four of the last five contests; and either Namibia or Zimbabwe as winners of the 2014 Africa Cup will join them.

The fourth group could go down to the wire, with European powers France and Ireland likely to be pushed for quarter-final qualification by Italy. Canada look like the best bet for Americas 1, to be decided in 2013, while Romania’s record in the European Nations Cup thus far makes them the best contender to complete the line-up.

Although England and Ireland will fancy their chances of making the last eight, the matches in which the places will be decided already look like being the Ireland-Italy, England-Wales and Scotland-Samoa fixtures. Those three ties will probably determine the fates of the four Home nations, and will be the pivotal fixtures of the pool stage.

With the competition itself not commencing until September 2015, the rugby world will essentially resume service as normal for another three years as the teams who are yet to qualify fight for a place in the sport’s greatest arena.

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