Australia will meet Fiji, Italy and Scotland in Group B, while New Zealand were drawn against Ireland, Jamaica and Lebanon in Group C and Tonga play Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea and Wales in Group D.
In the women’s tournament, New Zealand were drawn in the same pool as Australia in a massive boost for the likes of England and PNG.
However, most interest in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace centred on which team Prince Harry picked as England’s opponents in the opening match on October 23, 2021. The match will be played at St James’ Park in Newcastle.
Tournament organisers couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome as Samoa have the potential to be a massive drawcard if Williams chooses to play for them.
The host nation narrowly lost the 2017 final 6-0 to Australia and would be expected to top their pool but Great Britain’s disastrous Southern Hemisphere tour at the end of last season and the retirement of Sam Burgess have raised concerns.
Samoa are the obvious threat but their only win since 2016 was a 24-6 defeat of PNG in last year’s Pacific Test.
It would take a stunning upset for the Kangaroos to fail to top their pool but Tonga showed what is possible by beating Australia last November in Auckland and Fiji aren’t too far behind.
The Bati have qualified for the semi-finals of the last three World Cups and will be battle-hardened by Tests against New Zealand and Tonga this year.
Scotland drew with New Zealand in 2016 and Samoa at the 2017 World Cup but its hard to see them or Italy making it out of their pool.
This is probably the most wide-open pool, with the exception of the current No.1 ranked Kiwis.
Jamaica qualified for their first World Cup by beating the USA more than a year ago, while Lebanon are likely to field a young team after the retirements of Robbie Farah and Tim Mannah from the team that made the quarter-finals in 2017.
Ireland were unlucky not to have advanced to the 2017 quarter-finals in place of Samoa and would have under the format for the 2021 tournament.
However, the results in Group C are likely to come down to which of Ireland, Jamaica and Lebanon has the best heritage players to help claim second spot.
After beating Great Britain and Australia at the end of last season, as well as New Zealand at the 2017 World Cup, Tonga are aiming to win the 2021 tournament and few doubt they are capable.
Besides Tonga, Group D is also wide open as PNG beat Great Britain at the end of last season and Cook Islands have the potential to field a strong line-up if all of their heritage players make themselves available.
Wales have been disappointing in recent seasons but the tournament being in the UK will be of benefit to the Dragons.
The Orchids, Ravens and Brasileiras would have been doing handstands after being drawn in Group A with England.
Brazil will meet the host nation in the opening game of the women’s World Cup at Emerald Headingley Stadium on November 9, 2021.
Most interest in the women’s draw was always going to revolve around which side of the draw the Kiwi Ferns were in and France and the Cook Islands now face a tough World Cup campaign.
The Jillaroos are the defending World Cup champions and also won the 2013 final but New Zealand had won every tournament before that.
Defending World Cup winners France will meet Wales, Scotland and USA in pool B.
The 2021 World Cup is the first in which the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments have been staged concurrently, with all three finals to be played on the same weekend.
Brad Walter – NRL