This is the third and final article on my view of how the FIFA World Cup qualification process could be adopted by rugby.
The inter-confederation championship
Based on the results from Part 2, Ukraine (37), Brazil (28), Korea (31) and Uganda (35) would play each other. The matches would be either home and away or a single neutral territory game. A slight change from football is that you could even have a neutral territory style tournament.
The top 2 teams or the two winning teams (on aggregate) would advance to the World Cup. In this case, based on rankings, Brazil and Korea would most likely qualify for a place.
In rugby, the World Cup draw corresponds closely to world rankings. A team’s previous World Cup result also dictates whether they need to qualify. Currently, the rule is that the top 3 from each previous World Cup pool and the next host nation are exempt from qualifying.
The top 4 ranking teams are each randomly selected for a pool; the next four are drawn randomly into one of these pools, then the next 4. That covers the 12 that have automatically qualified. The final eight qualifying places are also placed into pools; i.e. Americas 1, Oceania 1, repechage etc…
The FIFA draw
In FIFA, the 32 qualified teams are ordered based on their world rankings at a particular time (Oct 2017 – 1 year before WC). The top 7 teams plus the host nation occupy the first place in each of the eight pools, drawn randomly. The next eight are then drawn randomly into 1 of these pools, then the next group of 8 and then the final 8.
Interestingly, nine teams ranked outside the top 32 qualified for next year’s FIFA World Cup. Italy (sitting in 9th) most notably missed qualification, showing how competitive the football world is.
In the way I have assessed the qualifying stages for the Rugby World Cup I have relied pretty heavily on current world rankings so in the end the top 32 teams actually qualified. However, it’s not completely outside the realms of possibility that teams outside the top 32 in rugby might somehow sneak into contention for the World Cup. And on the flip side, a team inside the top 32 could miss the cut, just like in football.
So, here is an alphabetically randomised 8 Pool Rugby World Cup draw. This, after being ordered by world ranking and into bands.
During the FIFA World Cup, after each team has played the other three teams in its pool, the top 2 teams advance to the top 16. The knockout stages of the finals are outlined below.
The top 16 is an additional stage that the FIFA World Cup has that the Rugby World Cup does not.
In this round, the winner of Pool A plays the runner-up of Pool B. The winner of Pool C plays the runner-up of Pool D. Similarly, the runner-up of Pool A plays the winner of Pool B and the runner-up in Pool C plays the winner of Pool D. The format continues in this fashion for Pools E through H.
It is in this round where it is completely possible for a so-called minnow nation to somehow force its way into a game against a top 8 team.
- 1. Australia vs Samoa
- 2. Ireland vs Italy
- 3. NZ vs France
- 4. South Africa vs Argentina
- 5. England vs Tonga
- 6. Japan vs Romania
- 7. Scotland vs Georgia
- 8. Wales vs Fiji
The winner of Game 1 plays the winner of Game 2, the winner of Game 3 plays the winner of Game 4 and so on.
The winner of QF1 plays the QF2 winner, and QF3 plays QF4. This is the same as it currently stands.
Then the two sides of the draw come together for the first time, and the two winners face off in the final. There’s also a bronze place final.
Keep the party going
It could also be possible to use a Sevens style system where the pool and quarterfinal losers get to play-off for Plate, Bowl and Shield prizes. This would undoubtedly help in keeping teams and supporters interested and would aid in global rugby development, however, the cost of this would certainly prevent it from happening.
Overall, the FIFA style qualifying system allows more teams into the World cup, it encourages confederation rivalry and development, and it gives meaning to games that might otherwise only count towards a confusing world ranking and World Cup qualification system.
FIFA doesn’t seem to care about score blow-outs, they want to expose teams to the nature of competitive football. This has the obvious benefit of showing teams where they stand in the world and how they can improve. Although, it’s also obvious that FIFA doesn’t have a problem drumming up global interest in football, so the risk that spectators would turn away from the game due to a drubbing is almost nil.
Also, in the same way that FIFA doesn’t look to protect weaker teams, it also doesn’t protect stronger teams from qualification elimination.
I’ll admit that an increase from 20 to 32 teams in the Rugby World Cup would probably be unfeasible from a monetary and perhaps organisational/logistical point of view at the moment. In fairness, this wasn’t the point of this articles anyway. However, if World Rugby is serious about global development, then it makes sense to get the global rugby community more involved. Confederations could do this. It would give some minnow nations a chance to play against the best in the world, on at least a four-yearly basis, and in qualifying on a semi-regular basis.
It’s obvious how much Georgia gained from their game against the All Blacks at the last World Cup. Sure there’s a decent chance of score blow-outs, but more powerful nations will undoubtedly use these games to develop depth anyway.
If we want to be competitive with the enormous spectacle that is the FIFA juggernaut, why not imitate it just a little bit?
The previous Rugby World Cup demonstrated that teams ranked outside the top 10 in the world are developing rapidly and becoming more competitive. Surely it’s time to expand the Rugby World Cup and implement a FIFA-inspired confederation system to engage the rugby community, draw in more spectators and interest to the game by developing rugby nations with games that have a clear and understood meaning and in which teams can more accurately gauge their progress?
Author: Steven Cartwright
I grew up in Taranaki and was introduced to rugby at 8 years old, and have been playing ever since. I played for the Inglewood club then went to boarding school at FDMC in New Plymouth. After graduating from Canterbury University I moved with my fiancee to south Brazil where I’ve been playing/coaching rugby and freelancing.