The Springboks won their biggest cup match, the 1995 final that was portrayed in the movie "Invictus", but the All Blacks have won their last two cup matches, including in the 2015 semifinals.
Things may become a bit trickier following the pool stages.
Conor O'Shea's Italy have been handed a very tough draw, against Champions New Zealand and South Africa.
"To get through to the final we're going to have to be bulletproof".
Scotland have never lost to Japan and beat them in the 2015 tournament after Eddie Jones' side had shocked South Africa, but Townsend knows the host nation, now led by New Zealander Jamie Joseph, will be formidable opponents at home.
All qualifying will be finished by the end of next year and the top two teams from each pool will reach the quarter-finals, with the tournament beginning on September 20 before concluding with the final at the International Stadium in Yokohama on November 2.
"The pool draw in Kyoto was a great success and brilliantly run".
Wales will face Australia in Pool D, with both sides having qualified ahead of England from the group stage of the 2015 World Cup. The 1991 champions and two-time finalists face another arduous pool in Japan.
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster says South Africa's recent form will count for nothing at the Rugby World Cup. [The Play-Off Winner] could well be Tonga, Samoa or Fiji.
"We've got two tests against Argentina this summer so that will give us some good practice", said Jones when giving his reaction to the draw at the Kyoto State Guest House.
"We've just got to find out where the games are going to be played, so we can get our planning set".
Well, it's not great news for England, who have been put in a tricky group alongside France and Argentina.
But New Zealand coach Steve Hansen admitted everyone would "get excited" by the prospect of another All Black and Springbok battle.
Foster told Radio Sport Breakfast it's a testing pool.
"Every group is going to have some tough teams in it, but from a Welsh perspective I'm happy how it has turned out".
There were gasps from the Japanese in the audience at the draw when the hosts were paired with Scotland.
Ireland also face "Europe 1" and the play-off victor in the five-team pool.
The 2019 hosts stunned South Africa two years ago and were widely praised for their entertaining brand of rugby.
It gets underway today, Wednesday May 10, in Japan.