England, Wales and Australia were all drawn together in a potential “group of death” when the draw for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England was made on Monday.
The trio all found themselves in Pool A at a draw conducted at London’s Tate Modern gallery.
This means one of the sport’s traditional powers will be knocked out before the quarter-finals, with only the top two teams from each of the four pools going through to the knockout stages.
Wales were beaten 14-12 by Australia, twice the world champions, in Cardiff on Saturday – their eighth straight defeat by the Wallabies.
England are currently in confident mood after their 38-21 victory over reigning world champions New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday.
However, that followed defeats by Australia (20-14) and South Africa (16-15) at Twickenham last month.
“It’s a pretty tough pool,” said England coach Stuart Lancaster.
“Wales, I’ve got a huge amount of respect for what they’ve done recently.
“Australia have just beaten us and are an incredibly competitive nation. We’ll look forward to it on a few years’ time,” added Lancaster bidding to follow Clive Woodward, the man behind England’s 2003 Webb Ellis Trophy triumph, in becoming a World Cup-winning coach.
The All Blacks, also the inaugural 1987 champions, were drawn in a Pool C with Argentina, Tonga and two as yet unqualified teams in Europe 1 and Africa 1.
South Africa, World Cup winners on home soil in 1995 and in France in 2007, were in Pool B with Samoa, Scotland, Asia 1 and Americas 2. It was the fourth consecutive time the Springboks have been drawn in the same pool with Samoa, and the second time they were in the same group as Scotland, as in 1999.
France, beaten finalists in New Zealand last year, were in a Pool D with a strong Six Nations bias as it also included major European rivals Ireland and Italy as well as Americas 1 and Europe 2.
The eight remaining teams will come from a series of global qualifying matches that started in Mexico in March and will culminate in 2014.
The quarter-final draw could see New Zealand up against either France, who knocked them out in the last eight in 2007, or Ireland.
Meanwhile the winners of England, Australia or Wales will face the runners-up from Pool B, who on current form are likely to be Samoa or Scotland.
Whoever wins Pool A will avoid New Zealand until the final provided the All Blacks, as they’ve done at every previous World Cup, win their group.
The Pool B winners will face the runners-up from Pool A with the winners of a Pool D where France will be the favourites facing the runners from Pool C, likely to be either Argentina or Tonga.
The 2015 World Cup in England, the eighth edition of the tournament, will run from September 18 to October 31, 2015, with the final at Twickenham.
Pool A – Australia, England, Wales, Oceania 1, Repechage winner
Pool B – South Africa, Samoa, Scotland, Asia 1, Americas 2
Pool C – New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga, Europe 1, Africa 1
Pool D – France, Ireland, Italy, Americas 1, Europe 2
QF1: Winner of Pool B v Runner-up Pool A
QF2: Winner of Pool C v runner-up Pool D
QF3: Winner of Pool A v Runner-up Pool B
QF4: Winner of Pool D v runner-up C
SF1: Winner QF1 v Winner QF2
SF2: Winner QF3 v Winner QF4