Rugby World Cup - time for a shake-up?

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Rugby World Cup - time for a shake-up?

Post by robbo277 on Tue 31 Jul - 11:48

We are under 14 months away from the Rugby World Cup in Japan and 18 of the 20 spots have been filled.

The African Gold Cup is still going on, with Namibia and Kenya both undefeated with 3 wins from 3. Namibia, who have taken 3 bonus points, scored 236 points and conceded 13, are strong favourites for automatic qualification as Kenya have taken 0 bonus points and won 3 much narrower games. Namibia also play Kenya at home in the last week.

If Namibia do take that position, Kenya will go into the repechage with Canada, Germany and Hong Kong, where Canada would be strong favourites to make the World Cup.

Should this happen, 19 of the teams from the 2015 World Cup would have been rolled over into the 2019 tournament, with Russia replacing Romania (who were disqualified for fielding an ineligible player).

Despite having a 20 team World Cup, only 23 countries have qualified since 1999 (inclusive) with Romania (made every World Cup until this one), Portugal (2007) and Spain (1999) previous qualifiers who missed out this time. Ivory Coast (1995) and Zimbabwe (1991 and 1987) have also appeared at Rugby World Cups as the African qualifier, with Zimbabwe benefiting from South Africa not being invited and Ivory Coast benefiting from them hosting. Namibia have filled this position since 1999.

As one of World Rugby's aims is to grow the game, is this healthy? We often talk about the two closed shops of the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship, but the World Cup in essence isn't much different. Especially if you consider that World Rugby altered the qualification places from 2015 after Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all finished 4th in their 2015 pools and therefore would have to qualify. Europe (who had 7 automatic qualifiers with Georgia crashing the party) and Asia (who had Japan finish in the top 3) both lost out - which robbed us of the chance of seeing Hong Kong and Germany at the tournament (assuming everything else was equal).

Now, we obviously want the strongest teams competing at the World Cup - but should the goalposts be constantly moved to let the same 19 teams qualify, with one place in flux? Should we expand the World Cup to 24 teams? You could have 8 pools of 3 (for a 6 game tournament) or 6 pools of 4 (for a 7 game tournament). Could also help alleviate the midweek issue.

If we look at some of the best teams not to qualify (assuming Namibia and Canada make it and ignoring eligibility issues), we could have Romania, Spain, Hong Kong and Kenya in this World Cup as well. As the 100-0s have started to drop off, does it make sense to include more teams?

A 6 pools of 4 World Cup would look something like (based on today's rankings):

New Zealand, Argentina, USA, Namibia
Ireland, Fiji, Romania, Russia
Wales, Scotland, Samoa, Hong Kong
England, France, Georgia, Canada
Australia, Japan, Uruguay, Spain
South Africa, Tonga, Italy, Kenya

The round of 16 would look something like:

New Zealand vs Georgia
Ireland vs USA
Wales vs Tonga
England vs Samoa
Australia vs Italy
South Africa vs Fiji
Argentina vs Japan
Scotland vs France

Pre quarter-finals you'd have 36 pool games + 8 round of 16 games = 44, compared to 40 pool games now, so not a seismic shift. In terms of workloads, no team plays more than the 7 games they currently play now, while the bottom ranked teams play one fewer pool game. But you've managed to fit more teams into the group stage and for your second tier of nations (Fiji, Japan etc) they should qualify from the pool by beating a couple of minnows and then just need a one-off win to make the quarter-finals, which would open the latter stages up for them.

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Re: Rugby World Cup - time for a shake-up?

Post by tigertattie on Tue 31 Jul - 13:03

How do you solve the problem of who plays the 2 3rd placed teams?

Why should group winners Oz play 3rd place Italy while group winners SA play 2nd placed Fiji?

Then of course there is 2nd placed Scotland who play 2nd placed France! SA as winners play a 2nd placed team in the round of 16, why Should Scotland get to play a 2nd placed team when they didn't win their group?
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Re: Rugby World Cup - time for a shake-up?

Post by robbo277 on Tue 31 Jul - 13:42

tigertattie wrote:How do you solve the problem of who plays the 2 3rd placed teams?

Why should group winners Oz play 3rd place Italy while group winners SA play 2nd placed Fiji?

Then of course there is 2nd placed Scotland who play 2nd placed France! SA as winners play a 2nd placed team in the round of 16, why Should Scotland get to play a 2nd placed team when they didn't win their group?

I take your point, it does look a bit uneven with some group winners having different treatments. But I guess that is the nature of a cup competition, and even now you get different draws. In 2015, England and Fiji went out playing because 4 Top 10 teams got drawn in the same pool. In 2011, France lost 2 pool games, still qualified and didn't meet any Southern Hemisphere teams in the knockouts before the final. In 2007, South Africa played their QF and SF against teams who weren't playing in either the 6 Nations or Tri-Nations (as it was then).

To be completely honest when filling in the first knockout round, I just made sure that no team played a team they'd already played in their pool and filled in from there. What they did in the Euro 2016 (which used this format) was to pre-ordain it as much as possible. I.e. no ranking of first placed or second placed finishers was used, and the ranking of third placed finishers was done on a simple qualify/not qualify basis. What they then did was give 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D games against 3rd placed teams. Who played which 3rd place team was based on who qualified.
See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UEFA_Euro_2016_knockout_phase#Combinations_of_matches_in_the_Round_of_16

So revisiting the above example, USA (3A), Samoa (3C), Georgia (3D) and Tonga (3F) all qualify as best 3rd places.

The round of 16 games would have been:
New Zealand vs Samoa
Ireland vs Georgia
Wales vs USA
England vs Tonga
Argentina vs Scotland
South Africa vs Japan
Australia vs France
Fiji vs Italy

So a "proper" draw wouldn't have given wildly different results.

I'd be tempted to say whenever the draw cut-off is, you'll take those rankings on that day and fix first place in Group A, second place in Group B etc down to 6th place in Group F. Group A-D are obviously preferable as you will play a third-placed side if you top it. After that it would just be potluck.

You could attempt to rank every team (as the Champions Cup do) and play on seedings, but that might be a bit of a nightmare.

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Re: Rugby World Cup - time for a shake-up?

Post by The Great Aukster on Tue 31 Jul - 13:59

Only four teams have ever won the RWC and maybe only another four could even be considered contenders - extending the number at the event will increase the one-sided contests. How many Kenyan fans would travel to see their team getting hammered in three games and does that really grow the game?

I agree that the current format needs to be changed but it should be reduced rather than increased! Having 16 teams at the finals in four pools of four would facilitate the match scheduling to make the rest periods fairer for everyone. While the number of games would be reduced, they would be more intense and possibly more accessible for fan packages.

So how does reducing the numbers grow the game?
There should be 'regional' qualifying for the four RWC finals pools, by choosing the first two teams from 8 pools of four. These regional pools would be held in 8 lower tier countries, with each having two seeds from the top 16 ranking supplementing two regional qualifiers. In this way the regional fans could see in person their teams play against the bigger teams with their broadcasters potentially benefiting from tv rights. Smaller countries could find it easier to bid for and host these mini pre-world cups with fans congregated together without having to travel excessively.
The top tier sides usually have meaningless warm up games anyway, so in this way those games would benefit the smaller teams while still having a serious edge and at least one game that had a bearing on the finals pool seeding. For the small teams they would get to taste full-on test rugby against the giants, and also have at least one evenly matched game for local bragging rights. Most of the 48 games would have global tv appeal, and could be scheduled live over various time zones.

The main argument against this is the uncertainty over which teams would comprise the final 16 and how long would be needed between the qualifying pool and the actual first game of the Finals to allow merchandising and promotion of the actual teams. This could be partially addressed by taking all the third placed pool teams to the RWC Finals for an eight-team repechage tournament with two four-team pools, semis and final - so another 15 games for World Rugby to sell and savour.

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Re: Rugby World Cup - time for a shake-up?

Post by Hazel Sapling on Tue 31 Jul - 15:27

The Great Aukster wrote:Only four teams have ever won the RWC and maybe only another four could even be considered contenders - extending the number at the event will increase the one-sided contests. How many Kenyan fans would travel to see their team getting hammered in three games and does that really grow the game?

I agree that the current format needs to be changed but it should be reduced rather than increased! Having 16 teams at the finals in four pools of four would facilitate the match scheduling to make the rest periods fairer for everyone. While the number of games would be reduced, they would be more intense and possibly more accessible for fan packages.

So how does reducing the numbers grow the game?
There should be 'regional' qualifying for the four RWC finals pools, by choosing the first two teams from 8 pools of four. These regional pools would be held in 8 lower tier countries, with each having two seeds from the top 16 ranking supplementing two regional qualifiers. In this way the regional fans could see in person their teams play against the bigger teams with their broadcasters potentially benefiting from tv rights. Smaller countries could find it easier to bid for and host these mini pre-world cups with fans congregated together without having to travel excessively.
The top tier sides usually have meaningless warm up games anyway, so in this way those games would benefit the smaller teams while still having a serious edge and at least one game that had a bearing on the finals pool seeding. For the small teams they would get to taste full-on test rugby against the giants, and also have at least one evenly matched game for local bragging rights. Most of the 48 games would have global tv appeal, and could be scheduled live over various time zones.

The main argument against this is the uncertainty over which teams would comprise the final 16 and how long would be needed between the qualifying pool and the actual first game of the Finals to allow merchandising and promotion of the actual teams. This could be partially addressed by taking all the third placed pool teams to the RWC Finals for an eight-team repechage tournament with two four-team pools, semis and final - so another 15 games for World Rugby to sell and savour.

I agree with Aukster in that qualifying needs a serious fix. The repechage is difficult to follow and improving the transparency of this would go a long way to avoiding a Romania incident.

20 is probably about right at the moment. It is good for the best of the next tier down to get exposure (and additional financial support) at this level.

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