The fallow weeks of the Six Nations can often be an exercise in killing time until the next instalment of the northern hemisphere’s premier rugby tournament comes around.

However, take a look around the wider international spectrum and there are some intriguing fixtures that have potentially groundbreaking ramifications.

Rugby World Cup qualification heats up

Over two legs of very exciting rugby, Uruguay have become the latest team to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Los Teros put in an exceptional performance in front of 16,132 supporters at BC Place, Vancouver to come away with a 29-38 victory. They then backed this up with a 32-31 victory in Montevideo the week after, to take the tie 70-60. Canada have one final shot to qualify for 2019; the 4 team repechage tournament taking place in France this November.

Uruguay vs Canada
Photo: NaBUru38, via Wiki Commons

Spain excel in European qualification

Moving across the Atlantic to the 2018 Rugby Europe Championship, there have been arguably, even more, groundbreaking results for the Los Leones of Spain. They firstly ousted Russia away in Krasnodar, by a score of 13-20. They went one step further this weekend, putting in a monumental performance to defeat perennial World Cup qualifier Romania in front of a boisterous crowd of over 15,000 in Madrid. This puts them in pole position to qualify as Europe 1, where they would slot into Pool A alongside Ireland, Scotland and hosts Japan. Whilst Spain’s qualification is by no means said and done, if they do qualify as Europe 1, this would lead to some hefty implications.

So what does all this mean?

If Spain qualifies as Europe 1, then one of Romania, Samoa or Canada will definitely not be competing in the 2019 World Cup. While this may be a minor disaster for the people involved from these countries, hopefully, it will act as a wake-up call to World Rugby. Back in 1995, both the USA and Fiji didn’t qualify for the then 16 nation World Cup. World Rugby reacted by expanding the 1999 tournament to 20 teams.

Is it now time to expand again?

None of the 3 countries potentially missing out seems to have become any worse since their competitive showing in RWC 2015; other teams around the world have simply gotten better.

Back in 2015, World Rugby’s CEO Brett Gosper floated the idea of expanding the Rugby World Cup in 2023. The following investigation looks into whether or not this is possible and how such a competition may work.

The Current State

There are very few people that would argue with the fact that the current Rugby World Cup works. And it works well. There are exciting pools to expose the developing nations and high drama knockout stages that appeal to many a fan. There are a lot of folks who would say, “Why fix something that isn’t broke?”. And the answer is that if rugby is to truly become a global game, more countries need to participate in the premier international competition.

The Future

If expansion is the answer, there are many different iterations as to how that expansion may take place. A balance has to be made: between a simple format and including a suitable number of teams so that the competition remains credible.

A simple format that has worked for the FIFA Football World Cup over the past few tournaments is: 32 teams, 8 groups of 4, top 2 go through to the knockout round of 16. However, there is no way that there are 32 international rugby teams capable of competing with each other.

A litmus test that can be used in each case is: how would the worst team fare against the All Blacks? The current team ranked number 32 in the world is Switzerland. At the risk of aggravating the most die-hard of Switzerland rugby supporters; New Zealand would quite simply annihilate them. A score of 150 points plus for the men in black is not beyond the realms of possibility. This would be embarrassing for all of the players involved and the game of rugby as a whole. It must not be allowed to happen at rugby’s world showcase event.

Who is good enough to compete at the top table?

So maybe a more important question is, which international teams could put up a decent showing against the best in the world? The weakest team (rankings and recent results wise) competing at the Rugby World Cup would be Namibia. If we go back to our litmus test, Namibia performed admirably versus New Zealand at the 2015 world cup, going down bravely to a score of 58 – 14.

New_Zealand vs Namibia at the 2015 RWC.
Photo: @sebastian1906, via Wik Commons

So, are there any teams as good or better than the Namibians that currently fall outside of the World Cup qualification places? The answer is a definite yes. Both Russia and Spain defeated Namibia at the 2017 World Rugby Nations Cup. Other nations’ credentials for being competitive enough to participate in the World Cup aren’t as clear-cut. Let’s have a look at the ‘next best’ teams from each continental qualifying region.

Brazil

Rugby has been kicking off in a big way in Brazil. Participation rates have swelled in the past few years, especially on the back of the national team’s participation in the Olympics Sevens tournament. Brazil men’s XVs have had some impressive results of late, having beaten the US and Canada within the past 2 years.

Germany

Recent highlights include a victory over Romania at the 2017 European Rugby Championship. However, they are currently embroiled in a standoff between their union and key financial backer Hans-Peter Wild. This has led to player strikes, resulting in heavy defeats in the 2018 Euro Championship. There is talk of a Pro 14 franchise potentially coming to their rugby capital Heidelberg in the next few years. But before any future progression takes place, they must solve issues off the field.

Kenya

They have only partially replicated their 7s success in XVs. Lost narrowly to Germany last summer and lost to Russia, Hong Kong and Chile at the 2017 Cup of Nations. Would currently probably be the weakest of this group of ‘next best’ teams but a lot can change by 2023.

Hong Kong

Asia’s next best team after Japan have a rich rugby tradition. They still remain way off the level of Japan but have had good results this year against countries of a similar standard. They triumphed against both Kenya and Chile in the 2017 November internationals.

So, who’s in?

Spain and Russia seem to be good enough, but 22 teams does not make for an easy format. On the other hand, 24 teams paves the way for 6 groups of 4. This is the same as the FIFA World Cup from 1982 to 1994.

Who gets those extra qualifying slots?

Judging purely on ability to compete, it seems to make sense to allocate the 4 extra places as follow:

  • 1 to South America – This place would effectively ensure that Uruguay and Canada both qualify
  • 2 to Europe – Spain and Russia have proved themselves to be just as good if not better than the lowest ranked team currently competing in the RWC
  • 1 more team going through the repechage. The best of the rest from each qualifying region (e.g. the teams mentioned earlier; Brazil, Germany, Kenya, Hong Kong) could compete in a round robin tournament with the top 2 qualifying for the RWC

Is this fair? On merit, yes. Geographically, no. There is more than a whiff of a European bias here. But there is no point in throwing in extra teams that are going to be lambs to the slaughter. Any expanded World Cup must try to avoid 100 point thrashings. These allocated extra slots would give the most competitive teams available. Maybe over time – if there are geographical shifts in competitiveness – these allocations can be altered.

The Final Product

6 groups of 4, top 2 of each group plus the 4 best 3rd places go into a round of 16 knockout comp. If that’s difficult to visualise, take a look at how that might hypothetically pan out:

World Cup group tables

(Groups roughly* ordered according to world rankings)

(*The world rankings are not truly reflective of a team’s world standing, i.e. Italy are currently ranked 14th in the world but they are down there because they lose a larger proportion of their games due to playing better opposition than the teams around them in the world rankings.)

And then the potential 1st knockout stage:

Knock-out phase

An extra knockout round gives the opportunity for those countries who haven’t historically made it out of their group to be involved in exciting knockout rugby at the biggest stage of all. This also means that the eventual finalists will play 7 games, exactly the same as the current World Cup.

The Verdict

Imagine how much rugby could take off in a huge country like Brazil if they qualified for the World Cup. Imagine how rugby might capture the national imagination if the USA qualified for the knockout stages of the World Cup.

Expansion is key to building the global game. Whether this tournament is the right format or not is up for debate. But what is certain is that expansion would have a tremendous effect on exporting rugby to a previously uncharted territory. Does this tournament pass the litmus test? At the moment no; the All Blacks could very possibly put 100 points past the weakest team. But in 5 years at the 2023 World Cup? Given the current trajectory of rugby’s international growth, you would hope the weakest teams would put up a very decent showing.

Whether it will happen or not is entirely another question. Agustín Pichot recently stated in an interview that he is against expanding the Rugby World Cup. It remains to be seen whether the powers that be back him up. But something must be done to take rugby beyond its traditional boundaries to make it a truly global sport.

Author: George Wood

I am, and have always been, obsessed by sports. I have a particular interest in the development of rugby globally and spend hours watching, researching and reading about obscure rugby news and games from around the world.
I previously had a 6 year stint in China, where I set up an expat football team in Wuhan. I now reside in London, working as a statistical analyst, spending large amounts of my free time watching sports with my wife.
More of my rugby thoughts on Twitter @GeorgeWood9187

37 COMMENTS

  1. I think it would be great for rugby to expand to more teams. It would let top teams use some younger players and let smaller teams develop. To make it fair they should do pools of repechage for the new places as different teams will improve and need the chance. Great article, very interesting.

    • But you can 9nly take 31 players to the Rugby world cup what happens if the starting player gets injured in a competitive game? Now you have to use a youngster because you had some easy games and you had to bring him for just those easy games. The rugby world cup shouldn’t be watered down for development. The rugby world cup is to showcase the highest level of rugby on the planet and the best teams in the world playing each other.

  2. Hello
    Great article, i appreciate the 6 pools x 4 teams format
    I suggest that the 4 more teams included are picked on ranking rather geographically

  3. In talking about the current state I’m not so sure all is rosy, the smaller teams get screwed in the schedule mainly, to the tournament’s detriment, so your 4 teams per pool would help that and I think for the layman shorter sharper pools would hold their interest better.
    I’d like to see something along the lines of what you propose though I fear a few hammerings here and there, hopefully not too many.

    • Cheers for the feedback. Yep that is a positive of having an even number of teams in a group, it should ensure that each team in the group has the same number of rest days between games. At the moment because there are 5 teams per group it gives an unequal rest period for each teams, with the t2 countries often getting the worst schedule.

  4. The fact that we are talking about the potential markets of Spain, Russia, Germany and Brazil makes this very interesting for World Rugby and more probable we see an expansion by 2023.

    • Yep absolutely. There is a lot of money and a lot of people in those 4 countries. I would have thought World Rugby would be pretty eager to tap into that.

  5. Great article George I think that expansion to 24 teams and the 1 south America 2 Europe and 1 repachage would be a great addition and as you said I think if competitiveness shifts then that can change. As for a German team joining the pro 14 I think they should set up a league with the 2 italien teams (they add nothing to the pro 14) , maybe 2 Georgian, 1 Romanian, 2 Russian and 2 Spanish teams otherwise the pro 14 could end up like super rugby and itd be a shambles

    • Cheers Adam. Yeah the 2 division Pro14 might be an option if they want to expand further in Europe. I absolutely agree that they need to learn some lessons from the problems the Super Rugby comp has come across when they tried to expand. The Italian teams have not added a lot for a while in Pro14 but there are promising signs. This season Benetton have won more than half of their games and looking at their remaining fixtures, I actually reckon they’ve got a pretty good shout of making the playoffs this season. You heard it here first!

    • Hello!
      Why just 1 Romanian? At club level Romania works better than all non 6 nations teams maybe besides Russia (although recently Poli Iasi has left the current first league season citing financial difficulty). And if the Italian leave Pro14 (maybe South African will eventually go back, too) then an Pan European League would be welcome. I think a better composition would be 2 Georgian, 3 Russian, 3 Romanian, 3 German, 4 Italian, 2 Spanish, 1 Portuguese (you may switch Spain and Germany as is quite difficult to say, Germany being the bigger market but Spain is Stronger at National team level- I am more for 3 for Germany). Maybe everybody playing once during the season and if the schedule needs filling, an extra cup competition should be used. When Rugby further develops maybe. I think that is best to organize provincial teams rather than clubs but this could be up for debate especially for Italy.

  6. thoughtful and timely article.
    I see few minor disadvantages, however a lot of merits.
    It is also important to introduce games for 9th. 11th, and etc. places.

  7. I would disagree with a format of six groups. Few matches would be competitive. I’d rather have four groups as today.

    Thanks for picking my photos!

    • You were the photographer at the Uruguay v Canada game? Brilliant stuff!
      Cheers for the feedback but I’m not really sure that I agree with the pools of 6 teams idea. 4 groups of would mean 5 pool games. With only 2/3 top quality teams in each pool, it means NZ (for example) will only have 1 meaningful game out of 5 in the group stages. Plus an extra fixture means extra player burnout.

  8. Great article, well written. I think a 24 team format is probably a good compromise, or at least a step in the right direction. But I think that world rugby needs to stop being afraid to expose lower tier rugby nations to tier 1 at the risk of score blowouts. It’s like teaching your kid to swim, throw them in the water and they’ll soon figure it out. World rugby need to rip the band-aid off and stop being over-protective. Rugby won’t compete with football if lesser nations are always excluded from premiere events and tournaments. The best way to create global interest is to be as inclusive as possible and use a simple format everyone understands, but with a few tweaks to give the minnows something to play for (like sevens style plate, bowl, cup etc). Grow the rugby family and stop being exclusive. Fifa are also looking at expansion, so the time is now for rugby to do the same.

    • Yeah I would rather keep it 20 nations but have a format like 7s to start with before introducing another 4 nations. At least those teams would have the same amount of game time and develop experience in a knockout format. It would also be great for fans at the event to see more matches and hopefully those matches would be a little cheaper so that everyone could experience a world cup atmosphere.

  9. Excellent read & well backed-up opinions!! Like the other comment here I’d prefer 4 groups of six teams & add an extra game to the round-robin (top-4 into knockout). I’ve never been a fan of ‘best-place finishers’, eg, third. A team who lost to 2 very strong teams in their group (eg, New Zealand & South Africa) may face a big disadvantage against a team that had arguably easier competition in their group (eg, England/France or Ireland/Scotland). But 24-team expansion is a def, your repechage idea is sound, & your article thoroughly enjoyable!

    • Cheer Dan! I have to say that yes I am not a big fan of the ‘4 best 3rd place’ qualification route into the round of 16, the fact that you could progress to the knockout after only 1 victory does seem a bit unfair. But then again I like it more than the pools of 6 option for reasons above (5 group games, with potentially only one of them meaningful for the big teams).

  10. Great read George. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head and I only hpe World Rugby take time to read opinion pieces on here, (so much good content on 1014.)

    The pool stages currently, as highlighted by other commenters, are often punitive on lower ranked teams. Perhaps nowhere was this better borne out than in the last World Cup in Scotland’s group, where, having monumentally overcome the Springboks, Japan then had to play Scotland 4 days later! Now as a Scotsman, despite feeling strangely thankful for that fact, even I could see that that was wholly unjust, and must change. 3 pool games spaced out in smart ways (6-7 days minimum) for all teams has to be the way forward. The idea that the higher achieving nations with better squad resources also get preferential fixture treatment is crazy, at least it is if World Rugby are serious about the game becoming global.

    I don’t know nearly enough about the individual machinations of the Unions of each country, but that might be a barrier to your sensible suggestion(s). The likes of Scotland (sorry to use us as an example again!) have had a seat at the top table in Rugby for a long time, and though they shouldn’t, perhaps some see game expansion as a threat to our standing in the game?

    • Great feedback there. Yep I wonder whether there is an element of that at play; current tier 1 nations not being inclusive simply because they are fearful of losing their high standing in what is already one of the biggest international sports. I hope that’s not the case and it is purely speculation, but you could be on to something there.
      And yes one of the big pluses of a 24 team tournament (that I failed to point out in the article) is that tier 2 countries get routinely shafted with unfair scheduling due to uneven group numbers. Given that there is little to no difference between the 20th and 24th ranked nations, expansion to 24 would seem like a fairly logical option to make World Cup scheduling fairer.

  11. First I apologize for my poor english.

    Talking about a possible expansion of the worldcup participants, I would like to bring a suggestion for discussion… what about an expanded system that retains competitiviness and balance in all games?

    The bad news: this system is not so simple than a 24 teams allocated in four or six groups!

    But yes, I think its possible!

    What about 25 teams allocated in 5 pools. Crazy!? Maybe, but let me try to explain the idea.

    Five pools with five teams each. Three first pools stronger than the last two pools.

    As a result of the draw system I present bellow, the most unbalanced game possible in a strong pool is a confrontation between the 1st highest-ranked team and the 19th highest team. And the less competitive game in one of the weakest pools is a confrontation between the 7th highest-ranked team and the 25th (the weakest participant). As you can see, its more competitive than the current system.

    By the way, at this point its necessary to add… if logics prevails in all the games, the eight worldrugby best ranked teams will be at the playoffs. The key that allow this is that the three stronger pools (where the six best ranked teams are allocated) get two places each on playoffs, while the last two pools (that allocate the 7th and 8th best ranked teams) sends only one team each to the playoffs.

    As well the three stronger pools qualify four teams each to the next worldcup, while the weakest pools qualify only two (total of 16 teams qualified). Again, I say if the logics prevails in all the games the 16th best ranked teams will be qualified.

    In this system the pool draw should take the following steps:

    – Step 1: Randomly distribute the three band1 teams – the three highest-ranked teams (1st to 3rd) – in the pools A, B and C (the stronger pools).
    – Step 2: Randomly distribute the three band2 teams – the next three highest-ranked teams (4th to 6th) – also in the pools A, B and C.
    – Step 3: Randomly distribute the two band3 teams – the next two highest-ranked teams (7th to 8th) – in the pools D and F.
    – Step 4: Randomly distribute the five band4 teams – the next five highest-ranked teams (9th to 13th) – in the pools A, B, C, D and F.
    – Step 5: Randomly distribute the three band5 teams – the next three highest-ranked teams (14th to 16th) – in the pools A, B and C.
    – Step 6: Randomly distribute the three band6 teams – the next three highest-ranked teams (17th to 19th) – also in the pools A, B and C.
    – Step 7: Randomly distribute the two band7 teams – the next two highest-ranked teams (20th to 21st) – in the pools D and F.
    – Step 8: Randomly distribute the two band8 teams – the next two highest-ranked teams (22nd to 23rd) – also in the pools D and F.
    – Step 9: Randomly distribute the two band9 teams – the last two teams (24th to 25th) – also in the pools D and F.

    According today’s world ranking the five pools could then look like this:

    POOL A (qualify two to the playoffs and 4 to the next worldcup)
    New Zealand (band1)
    Scotland (band 2)
    Fiji (band4)
    Romania (band5)
    Uruguay (band6)

    POOL B (qualify two to the playoffs and 4 to the next worldcup)
    England (band1)
    Australia (band2)
    Georgia (band4)
    Samoa (band5)
    Spain (band6)

    POOL C (qualify two to the playoffs and 4 to the next worldcup)
    Ireland (band1)
    South Africa (band2)
    Japan (band4)
    Italy (band5)
    USA (band6)

    POOL D (qualify only one to the playoffs and 2 to the next worldcup)
    Wales (band 3)
    France (band4)
    Canada (band7)
    Hong Kong (band8)
    Portugal (band 9)

    POOL E (qualify only one to the playoffs and 2 to the next worldcup)
    Argentina (band3)
    Tonga (band4)
    Rússia (band7)
    Namíbia (band8)
    Germany (band9)

    Most likely we would see New Zealand, Scotland, England, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Wales and Argentina in the playoffs.

    And the pre-qualified to the next worldcup would be, in addition to those eight mencioned above, Fiji, Romania, Georgia, Samoa, Japan, Italy, France and Tonga.

    Well, that’s just an idea.

    • Great name and great effort on the feedback! I was skeptical at first – through my own lack of understanding of your idea – but I’ve just read it again and it sounds like something that would work if you wanted preserve the competitiveness of matches. Certainly there would be less thrashings with a format like this. What I will say though is that I think the confusing format and the unequal standard of groups may put a few people off. But I personally like your idea and I think it’s something that could work. Cheers for taking the time to write all of this out!

    • Hello!
      First things first. Why a group F and no group E. Just asking :)!
      I actually like the system quite a lot and prefer it over the other one proposed above in the article. Mainly because it is more competitive.
      I have a question for you guys in the context. What is the 25th teams (besides what was presented in the article above) would be chosen from the likes of Barbarians, French Barbarians, South Africa A, Australia A, Junior All Blacks, Maori All Blacks (New Zealand really has a huge tradition here and maybe deserves 2 opportunities). Those teams are very rugby unique- the barbarians and Maori all blacks especially, and give special flavor and respect for tradition. Also gives a world cup chance for players who would otherwise not play at such a high level. There would be problems as enough inter world cup competitive matches for these teams should be arranged so that their ELO is not meaningless, and a qualifying competition among them should be organized somehow (4 years are enough), also a sustained roster should be encouraged without interfering with the first teams selection of the nations involved. I think for this reasons Barbarians should be limited to English or Celtic players or players who play in the English or Celtic Leagues System. Also I don’t think this spot should be eligible for direct qualification for the next world cup but eligible for anything else. Also safeties should be made so that for example France and les bas bas won’t play each other unless in the final (which for les bas bas tobe honest or any of the other is quite unlikely).
      I am curious. What do you guys think about such a team being the 25th team?

  12. There’s many problems about this. A team being apart of a the Rugby world cup is nothing less than honour and privilege and must be rewardedto the top skilled and merited teams.

    It’s the top teams on the planet playing one another. We can’t just expand it for the sake of giving exposure to developing rugby nations. Top and competitics countries must play at the world cup.

    Also not having a competitive pool sucks. No offense to Uruguay but I don’t know which bok fan would fly from south Africa to France or Japan to see the bok Uruguay game. There’s no rivalry between us and them plus Uruguay aren’t even a very good team

    Look if we gonna expand the world cup the gap between tier one rugby and tier two rugby must close. Once that happens then we’ll talk expansion in the Rugby world cup.

    If we were talking about six nations or rugby championship I can agree with expansion for sure. Having tonga or Fiji in the Rugby championship can be great but rugby world cup shouldn’t watered down into a development program. It’s where top teams all over the world play each other.

    Who’s gonna pay to see the boks vs Uruguay? The world cup is expense espeacially for us saffas. I’ve seen this expansion stuff take place in super rugby. This lead to very empty stadiums with only a few people in crowds. Because it wasn’t competitive. Thevtop teams just continued dominating so they finally cut the bad teams after two years of a poor competition.

    People wanna see good teams play good teams in the world cup. Or at least have some form of competition with weaker teams. The eagles smashed Uruguay two days ago by plus 40 points. The boks smashed the USA last world cup by 60. Imagine that scoreline if the boks possibly played Uruguay in 2023. The scoreline would be in triple digits. Canada got smashed by the Argentina’s b team 40-15 i dont think they deserve world cup qualification. Imagine if they played the Pumas?? No one wants to see that.

    I’ve ranted too much the point is let’s close the gap between the 1st tier teams and second tier teams. And make at least the top 15 competitive in some way.Then we’ll talk about expansion. But for now the world cup is fine as it is. We shouldnt waterdown the world cup in to a development program.

    • I think the question is: do we want to keep the game as competitive as possible with the current status quo? Or do we want to expand the game to become a truly global one at the expense of the occasional blowout? I can certainly see the appeal of the first option, but it’s not as though you don’t see competitive games at the rugby world cup especially from the quarter finals onwards. I still think though that pool games are of massive value. You asked who is going to want to watch the Boks v Uruguay: Uruguay’s attendances from their 4 games in the 2015 world cup were 71,887 39,605 30,048 and 50,778 (which works out to at 95% of the total stadium capacity). So actually a lot of people are willing to pay money to watch even the lowest ranked teams at the world cup.
      Yes there were some unflattering scorelines in the ARC at the weekend, but you have to dive a little deeper to investigate what exactly went on. Canada were without all of their professional players in Europe and Super Rugby (Jeff Hassler, Tyler Ardron, Taylor Paris, DTH van der Merwe all spring to mind). As were the USA and Uruguay. So this is not a reflection of their true strength. Yes Uruguay got a clobbering from the US, but by the same logic nobody would want to go and see South Africa who got beaten 57-0 by New Zealand. Point is, massive score lines do happen from time to time regardless of how strong a rugby country is involved. Also, the USA were resting a lot of 1st team players when they played South Africa in RWC 2015 because they had a much more winnable game to play against Japan only 4 days later. This score line highlights one of the current problems with the RWC, which is the unfair scheduling due to an uneven amount of teams in each group.
      I’m not denying that inclusion into the RWC would be a baptism of fire for some national teams and I’m sure that there would be some score lines which would make the inclusion of extra sides questionable. But considering there is little difference in teams ranked 20-24 and 24 teams would ensure a fairer schedule, an expanded tournament could help in making rugby more of a global sport.

      • But we must also set goals as to how much we want rugby to grow. Not just add teams to blindly grow the game with no goal.How would you measure the groath of rugby in the world. Through the amount of registered players with union or the amount of people watching the sport? Also making the 2 tier teams will be also very important as well for the sake of the competition of the rugby world cup. Springbok vs all black tests aren’t what they used to be the games are struggling to sell out which does show that people want to see competitive games in a competition and in the end the rwc is a competition.

        • Yep great point about how does one accurately measure the growth of rugby. Players are one thing, but there are lots of sports where there are huge casual player numbers, but they don’t have massive international competitions that lots of people would watch. Number of fans then? Well there are plenty of people in the UK who would watch the 6 nations but have never seen a club game. So are there different categories of fans? It’s hard to get a true gauge on the growth of rugby and I think several elements of player and spectator numbers need to be considered.
          I absolutely agree that the sanctity of competitiveness levels need to be maintained at the rugby World Cup to ensure spectators are engaged. But I think if you can grow the world game at the expense of only a potentially very small drop in competitiveness level, RWC expansion should be considered because of the huge numbers of new fans you could make with more teams.

          • You guys are forgetting where the money truly lies. It is not that important to sale tickets, but to sign TV deals. Apart from European teams, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa are extremely remote countries, which makes it more difficult for rugby lovers to travel all the way to this country in a local.
            If American* and Brazilian audience actually watch their national team in a World Cup, it might increase interest, expand the number of players and eventually grow a bigger league. Brazil has just won its first South American championship and USA has its innaugural year for its rugby league.
            USA example in football (I am not going to say soccer, because who cares about american football apart from USA) is quite illustrating. The USA host the 1994 World Cup, saw increasing numbers in popularity and they now host a big league and have amazing attendance numbers. Besides * – Americans will go to the stadium by whichever reason.

  13. Hi George ,
    This is a super article and also one of the best things about the 1014. Im Irish and until recently , i havent been particularly interested in rugby outside the traditional strongholds. Ive been doing some research about the qualification process and what the tier 2 & 3 teams need to do to qualify.

    Thanks for explaining the qualification system because anytime ive looked for an explanation on the World Rugby website. It is just very confusing.

    I think that your format would definetly be worth considering because if these teams played well at a RWC it could vastly accelerate rugby in their country and bring additional vitality and funds into the game .

    Also could you explain in a bit more detail how the repartage qualification works ? I still find that confusing .

    Keep up the good work
    Pat

    • Cheers Patrick. Glad you liked it. The repechage is a bit tricky. It basically involves each of the teams that don’t directly qualify from each continental region, but with a couple of caveats. The 4 teams will be:
      – Africa 2 (most probably Kenya)
      – Americas 3 (Canada)
      – The loser of Oceania 3 v Europe 2
      – (Samoa v (probably) Romania)
      – The winner of Oceania 4 v Asia 1 (Tahiti v (probably) Hong Kong)

      They play a round robin tournament in a neutral venue (France I believe) and the winner gets the final qualifying place for RWC 2019. The winner of Samoa v Europe 2 also qualifies. It’s not an easy format to digest! But it’s basically world rugby’s attempt at trying to get all of the best teams into the RWC.

  14. Fantastic article and very well researched. It all makes perfect sense and should really be forwarded to world rugby.

  15. Good text. I Just personally don’t like of the Idea of best 3rd places qualifying. Maybe something like 1982 FIFA World Cup would be better. 6 pools of 4 with 2 qualifying, then 4 pools of 3 with one qualifying, semifinais and finals. Also a possibility would be the 6 3rd placed teams playing an “bowl” tournament for the 13th place with 2 pools of 3 and finals. Currently 12 teams get automatic qualification for the next RWC. My proposal is that with 24 teams the 13th can also get a automatic spot. That would provide an attainable goal for tier 2 (and possible 3) nations and more games with teams of their level.

  16. Probably going to be the first Brazilian to comment here in this blog, but well done and well written. If you think about it, not only worldwide interest in the sport in being frustrated by the amount of teams in the World Cup, but also the Americas qualification is pretty frustating: on one hand, whoever wins between USA vs Canada already guarantee one berth in the World Cup. On the other, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay have to struggle to win a small tournament and then play against the losing side on Canada vs USA. That seems rather unfare, especially if you consider that Brazil have already beaten both Canada and USA.

    By the way, I saw life my team win the South American Six Nations and it just produce a sparkle, mate. Rugby is growing fast in Brazil.

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