Rugby World Cup pool draw to be held under concussion cloud
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by Illtud DAFYDD
PARIS - Holders South Africa could face hosts France at the 2023 Rugby World Cup with the draw for the pool stages taking place in Paris on Monday with a cloud hanging over the sport.
The Springboks are top seeds alongside runners up England, three-time winners New Zealand and Wales with Les Bleus joined by Australia, Ireland and last year's hosts Japan in band two.
The issue of head injuries will be present at Palais Brongniart, the former location of the French stock exchange, less than a week after a host of former internationals said they were planning legal action against rugby authorities over the result of concussion.
Ex-England hooker Steve Thompson said he has no recollection of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in 2003 and in November was diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
The planned action is against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union, for "failure to protect (the claimants) from the risks caused by concussions".
Elsewhere, the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW), an association for professionals from the Pacific Islands, wrote an open letter to Bill Beaumont on Saturday asking for fairer schedules during the tournament in three years' time.
The PRPW said lower ranked nations, such as Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, have had less time to recover between matches in past editions of the World Cup.
"We request this because it is the right thing to do for the good of the game at this critical juncture in the game's history," PRPW chairman and ex-Samoa lock Dan Leo said.
"But it also represents a long overdue commitment by World Rugby to equality and fair play.
"This should be understood for what it is: the strongest handicapping the weakest. And these matters are beyond debate. The lopsided schedules and compromised governance structures speak for themselves," he added.
France, holding the competition for second time, have impressed under new head coach Fabien Galthie but captain Charles Ollivon refused to get carried away about their chances on home soil.
"It's a big moment, we're a little bit excited to know who we'll start against and our pool," Ollivon told Canal+ on Sunday.
"All the players, we're aware of the task that awaits us.
"However, we have a lot of work to do, a lot of battles to win, before 2023," he added.
Fiji, Italy, Scotland and Argentina are the four other nations who reached the tournament automatically after finishing in the top three of their group in Japan.
They will be joined by eight qualifiers with the final lineup known by November 22.