In the first article on the FIFA World Cup qualification process, we looked at that process. We also loosely proposed a possible application in rugby.

This article goes into a bit more detail about how it may work. If you haven’t seen Part One of the series you can see it here.


The European qualifying process would ideally see the 40 teams drawn out randomly into eight qualifying pools (of 5 teams). Every qualifying game is either played as a home and away series or a single neutral territory test match.

After the pool games, the top team from each pool would automatically qualify (in red below, based on current rankings). Each team last in their pool would be eliminated (crossed out below).

Round 1
Applying FIFA World Cup qualification process to Europe.
Round 2

The remaining 24 teams would go into a 2nd round of qualifying to determine the final 7.5 spaces (in blue above). The blue team ranked 2nd in pool one will play the blue team ranked 4th in pool 2, pool 2’s 2nd ranked team will play the 4th from pool 1 and the 3rd ranked teams play each other.

The top 6 winning teams based on score differential over both rounds of qualification will get a place in the RWC. The 12 losing teams from round 2 drop out. This leaves six teams to compete in a 3rd round to determine the final 1.5 places in the RWC.

Round 3

Ranked in order of points differential from the first two rounds, the bottom four teams play each other (top 2 teams sit out the round). That could be three vs six and four vs five. The winners then continue to a semi-final one vs four (based on point’s diff.) and two vs three.

The winners play a final to decide who gains entry into the RWC and who needs to go to the inter-confederation play-off.

It’s possible to create alternative qualifying systems for Europe where the minnows of European rugby eliminate each other. Eventually they would go into a smaller tournament or pool system where they would play the higher-ranked countries.

Or use a four pool, ten team system to give more games to developing nations, but for cost/benefit, I’ve decided on this format.

Other more (or less) complex systems could be implemented depending on the organisers of the European confederation, but I wanted to create a system that rewards the better teams with fewer games and punishes the worst performers and gives ‘middle of the road’ teams access to more games against potentially top nations.

I also wanted to replicate some of the complexity of the FIFA systems. Also, these games can be played within the already existing European championship and Trophy cup.

North America

The 10 North American confederation teams would simply play a home and away tournament where the top 2 teams gain automatic entry. Going by the current rankings this would see USA and Canada qualify.

I’ve also included in this confederation all of the Caribbean island nations and Mexico. However, depth in this confederation is low considering after Canada ranked 21, the next best team is Trinidad and Tobago, ranked 53. This is why they only receive two spaces.

South America

The 10 South American teams would also play a straight-forward 10 team home and away game tournament. The top 3 teams qualifying and the 4th best team competing in the inter-confederation competition. This would see Argentina, Uruguay and Chile qualify and Brazil go into the inter-confederation play-offs.

There already exists an Americas Rugby Championship, and this could operate alongside that with minimal disruption, but with the obvious factor that certain games have more meaning.

Although, realistically the only difference here, from the existing system, is that the Americas become two separate confederations. Ultimately meaning there are more places are available.


In 2019 Japan is the World Cup host so gains an automatic entry into it. 14 other teams are competing in the Asia confederation for 2.5 WC spaces.

It would make sense to create two pools of 7 teams (including Australia), to reduce games and travel. An alphabetically organised two pool system could look like this:

Each team from either pool would play either six neutral territory games or a series of home and away games (12 each team), with the winner of each pool gaining entry and the two runners-up facing off to decide who enters the inter-confederation championship.

On current rankings, Australia and Hong Kong would win their pools and S. Korea, and Sri Lanka would be runners-up. The winner (based on rankings) would most likely be S. Korea.

To save on travel costs these pools could be arranged into geographic areas; single neutral territory games could also be an option.

Also, note that these World Cup qualification games can be played at any time between World Cups. The Asia Cup already involves many of these teams.

I’ve included Australia here, to mimic the FIFA system. Australia could use their A team as they did in the Pacific Nations Cup.


The African confederation is made up of 17 teams spread out across the continent. And due to the huge size of Africa and the relatively low wealth of its countries, it would be best to group these teams into geographically organised pools.

It would also make a lot of sense to group Morocco and Tunisia in the European confederation. Particularly if the European pools are determined geographically. However, for this exercise, I’ve left them with Africa.

One pool would contain the nine most northern countries. And one pool with the remaining eight southern and island rugby playing nations.

The winner of both pools gains automatic entry into the World Cup. And the two runners-up facing off to decide who else qualifies and who will need to enter the inter-confederation championship.

The African pools could look like this:

Going on current rankings; South Africa and Kenya would win their respective pools. Uganda and Namibia would likely decide the 3rd World Cup place and Namibia is likely to win this so Uganda would most likely go into the inter-confederation deciders.


The 11 teams in this confederation could be split into pools decided geographically or randomly, however, the island nations are spread over a large area anyway, so travel is unavoidable.

Leaving them in one group would also work. And this would indeed create an interesting Pacific championship.

NZ could field a Maori team or an A team (like they did in the Pacific Nations Cup) for developmental reasons. The games could also be played in locations which allow for the most significant financial gain for the minor unions (probably Auckland). However, for global development and exposure, I think it’s best for NZ to play more games in the Pacific.

Also, remember that these games can take place at any time within the World Cup window. NZ would potentially only have an extra four games over the 3-4 year period.

I’m going to create two pools alphabetically, as follows:

Based on current world rankings the teams in red would qualify for the World Cup, as the top 2 from each pool qualify for the four allocated places.

It would be great to see further development of the island nations by including another Oceania World Cup space (or half). However, as there is a significant gap in the current rankings between Samoa (16) and the Cook Islands (56), this would seem nonviable at this point.

Author: Steven Cartwright

I grew up in Taranaki and was introduced to rugby at 8 years old, and have been playing ever since. I went to school at FDMC in New Plymouth. After graduating from Canterbury University I moved with my fiancee to Brazil where I’ve been playing/coaching rugby, working and partaking in the odd caipirinha.


  1. Loving this idea Steven! I think football is the only sport where rugby can draw inspiration from as there are not really any other sports which are played internationally in this way.
    Growing the game and allowing smaller teams access to better competition is the way forward.

    The other key is financial. Smaller unions have to be allowed to compete at this level too. The NZRU needs to be more active in supporting the pacific nations. Its great to see players starting to choose to turn out for tonga or samoa (as an example).

    We are lucky in NZ to have such amazing talent from polynesian players in our comps. It doesn’t matter where someone was born, the impact on our national team is obvious and beneficial. Micheal Jones is a good example. Kiwi through and through, we are lucky his parent(s)/ grandparents decided to move to NZ for several reasons but chiefly screw playing against him!

    Looking forward to part three. Cheers.

    • Cheers Joseph, I agree, if world rugby is intent on developing and expanding the game internationally, they need to adopt a better method that can draw in interest from around the globe in a similar way that football does and expose developing nations to more top flight rugby. We’re already seeing results in competitiveness in the sevens tournaments with teams like Kenya and Argentina having regular success.


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