'Massive support': All Blacks drawn with World Cup hosts France

Paris (AFP) –


The All Blacks were left to contemplate a tough pool fixture with hosts France at the 2023 Rugby World Cup on Tuesday, while England and Australia secured a "dream" ride -- but champions South Africa were plunged into the tournament's deadliest group.

New Zealand coach Ian Foster, under fire after a mixed first season in charge, admitted the three-time World Cup-winners faced a challenge from an increasingly impressive France and their home fans.

The All Blacks beat France in the 1987 and 2011 finals, but they famously went down to Les Bleus in the 1999 semis and 2007 quarters.

"You can just see that France are really building a team at the moment of great depth. You can see that all their planning is around 2023," Foster said after Monday's draw in Paris.

"We'll be expecting a vibrant French team in a country that love their rugby. We know they'll have massive support behind them.

"But that's what makes World Cups so special, those sort of games. And they're games that we thrive on. That we look forward to. We know that if you're not at your best, you're going to struggle."

England were drawn with Japan and Argentina in Pool D, Australia have Wales and Fiji in Pool C and South Africa will play Six Nations sides Ireland and Scotland in a treacherous Pool B.

Australian media said the draw was a "dream" for the Wallabies, as well as England. But Australia coach Dave Rennie said: "There's no easy pool."

"If you look at the three teams that we know are confirmed in this pool they're all really tough," he added.

"We're all three years away, our teams are going to change a lot, there'll be other guys that will come through and I imagine we'll all be better in three years time."

- Japan warning -

Upset specialists Japan, who beat South Africa in 2015 when led by current England coach Eddie Jones, and stunned Ireland and Scotland en route to the 2019 quarter-finals, were hoping Jones takes them lightly.

"I hope that he thinks that we're far too behind England to be worried about at this stage," Japan coach Jamie Joseph said.

"He's got an intimate knowledge of pretty much everything in rugby apart from what we do. We're adapting all the time."

Meanwhile South Africa face an uphill battle to become the World Cup's first four-time winners as they take on both Ireland and Scotland in Pool B.

"It's exciting, really, to know who your RWC pool opponents will be," Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi said.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, seeding levels for the tournament draw were based on the world rankings on January 1, 2020, instead of after the autumn internationals as originally intended.

Organisers also moved the draw forward to be able to start selling tickets in March next year, before ticket sales for the 2024 Paris Olympics begin in 2022.

The dozen countries from the draw will be joined by eight qualifiers, with the final line-up to be known by November 2022.

The draw was held days after a host of former internationals said they were planning legal action against the sport's authorities over the effects of concussion sustained during their careers.

The planned legal action targets World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union, for "failure to protect (the claimants) from the risks caused by concussions".