France's opening World Cup clash with All Blacks just two years away
It’s been two years since the Springboks were crowned champions in Japan and, thanks to the ongoing impacts of the global pandemic, rugby is still yet to return to the heights of South Africa’s famous victory over England in front of 70,000-strong Yokohama crowd.
There are signs that the game is stirring once more, however, with the upcoming November internationals set to mark the first full-scale inter-hemisphere smorgasbord of matches since 2019.
Clashes between Australia and England, South Africa and Wales, and Japan and Ireland should all make for tense viewing, but the highlight of the coming international window will perhaps be the All Blacks’ impending clash with France, set for November 20.
After bowing out in the knockout stages of the 2019 tournament, both nations are starting to make massive strides ahead of their opening night fixture in 2023 and the coming match will give fans a taste of where their sides sit halfway through the current cycle.
While the groups for France 2023 were decided late last year, and the draw was unveiled earlier in 2021, there’s still much to be decided for the coming tournament.
In Pool A, New Zealand and France will be joined by their traditional World Cup rival, Italy, as well as the top emerging nations from Africa and the Americas.
Canada secured a surprise victory in the first match of the series last weekend and the Eagles will need to turn around a 13-point deficit in the return fixture on Saturday if they want to avoid a considerably more convoluted path to World Cup qualification.
South Africa, Ireland and Scotland will battle it out for the two spots in Pool B, alongside the top tier-two side from the Asia/Pacific region – likely Tonga – and the Europe 2 qualifier.
The Europe 1 qualifier, meanwhile, will join Wales, Australia and Fiji in Pool C, as well as the final qualifier from the ‘best of the rest’ repechage tournament set to be held next year.
The two European emerging nations will also be decided in 2022, with aggregate results from two years’ worth of Rugby Europe Championship games to determine who will get the chance to play at rugby’s flagship tournament.
Georgia (five wins from five matches) and Portugal (three wins) are currently in the box-seat but Romania and Russia have games in hand and still hold their futures in their own hands ahead of next year’s Championship.
Finally, England, Japan, Argentina and Samoa will all fancy their chances of qualifying out of Pool D, and will be joined by one further side from the Americas.
While the full fixture list can’t be confirmed until the 20 qualified nations are determined, the opening game between Les Bleus and the All Blacks in Paris promises to spearhead what’s looming as the biggest Rugby World Cup of all-time.
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