The RWC Schedule: A Tier 2 Handicap?

When the Rugby World Cup match schedule was announced World Rugby stated it was the fairest yet. That they had reduced the short turnarounds and evened them up across tier 1 and tier 2. The mainstream press didn’t ask questions. Now we have an outcry about the unfair turnarounds that some teams are having to make. Let’s have a look at the schedule and see where the reality lies.

For convenience I have included Namibia in the tier 2 group even though they are listed as a tier 3 nation in some places. All numbers you will see are in days.

Let’s start by looking at the average turnaround for tier 1 and tier 2 along with the average maximum and minimum turnarounds and finally the average duration that the 3 games are played in.

Average Max Min Duration
Tier 1 6.67 8.1 5.1 20
Tier 2 6.37 8.5 4.6 19.1

Looking at this it does appear relatively fair between the two tiers even if the minimum turnaround is half a day shorter for tier 2 nations. I have heard complaints from Welsh fans as well that they have a shorter turnaround than England so maybe the devil is in the detail. Here is a list of all the teams:

Country Tier Average Max Min Total
England 1 7.3 8 7 22
Ireland 1 7.3 8 7 22
Italy 1 7.3 8 7 22
Argentina 1 7.0 9 5 21
Wales 1 6.7 9 5 20
France 1 7.3 10 4 22
New Zealand 1 6.3 8 4 19
South Africa 1 6.0 7 4 18
Australia 1 5.7 7 4 17
Scotland 1 5.7 7 4 17
Samoa 2 6.7 7 6 20
Tonga 2 6.7 10 5 20
Fiji 2 6.0 8 5 18
Georgia 2 6.0 7 5 18
Canada 2 5.7 7 5 17
Japan 2 7.3 10 4 22
USA 2 7.0 10 4 21
Uruguay 2 6.7 9 4 20
Romania 2 6.0 9 4 18
Namibia 2 5.7 8 4 17

So there are 5 teams from tier 1 have a minimum turnaround of 4 days and 2 more have a 5 day turnaround. If we compare that to tier 2 nations then again there are 5 teams with a minimum turnaround of 4 days and a further 4 that have a minimum turnaround of 5 days. So again at this level it appears relatively even between the two tiers. There are teams that have a more even schedule than others but it doesn’t appear overly weighed against the tier 2 nations. However as I have said before the devil is in the detail so let’s look at those second games for teams with a 4 day turnaround.

Tier 4 Day Turnaround Opponent
1 France Romania
1 New Zealand Namibia
1 South Africa USA
1 Australia Uruguay
1 Scotland USA
2 Japan Scotland
2 USA Japan
2 Uruguay England
2 Romania Ireland
2 Namibia Argentina

You might notice that all the tier 1 teams face the 5th seeded team in their group after a 4 day turnaround. That means that these sides can rotate their players with the confidence that they will win the game anyway. For the tier 2 teams it’s harder, for a start 4 of the teams are the 5th seed so they can’t play a lower ranked team. The one team that is put in especial difficulty are Japan, they had to play Scotland and as we saw they faded in a game that they could have been competitive in. Some will argue that USA will also be in the same position later in the tournament. The other 3 games would be heavy losses anyway but this will assure that they will be.

Now lets look at the 5 day turnarounds:

Tier 5 Day Turnaround Opponent
1 Argentina Georgia
1 Wales Fiji
2 Tonga Namibia
2 Tonga Argentina
2 Fiji Australia
2 Fiji Uruguay
2 Georgia Namibia
2 Canada France
2 Canada Romania

This time it’s not so much the sides that they face but how often the tier 2 teams have short turnarounds. Yes there are 2 tier 1 and 4 tier 2 teams but 3 of those 4 tier 2 teams have to do it twice.

In summary it’s the minimum turnarounds that hurt, there is no gain from the larger turnarounds as most players are used to playing every 7 days. The very short turnarounds for the tier 1 nations are not a problem due to squad depth and who they are playing against. For tier 2 nations it’s much more impactful. For the 5 day turnarounds again the tier 2 nations will struggle more with less depth but there fact that 3 teams have to do it twice is a major handicap for them. Whilst this might be the fairest Rugby Wold Cup schedule ever, it’s still heavily weighted against some teams and mainly the tier 2 ones.

Is there a solution?

Yes there are several, the only problem is that every solution has a down side:

  1. Increase the length of the Rugby World Cup by a week. This is the most obvious solution but in a calendar that is already crowded it’s not considered feasible.
  2. Reduce the Rugby World Cup back down to 16 teams. Another obvious solution but for a game that is trying to expand, reducing the number of teams isn’t an acceptable solution.
  3. Change the format to have 5 groups of 4 teams. This would mean that the 5 pool winners and the 3 best second places would qualify for the quarter finals. This would put qualification even more dependent on the draw and lead to accusations of randomness at best.
  4. Lengthen the pool stages by shortening the knockout stages. The quarter finals could be moved to Monday/Tuesday and the semi finals moved to Sunday/Monday rather than the weekends. This could add 2 days to the group stages and if more games were scheduled on weekdays then that could be used to stop the 4 day turnarounds at least. The downside to this is that we like to watch rugby at the weekends. This impacts TV audiences and so the dollars that go into funding the game.

None of these options are palatable, but would you choose one of these over the current situation?

I have also dug into the 2019 draw and you can read about it here.

13 thoughts on “The RWC Schedule: A Tier 2 Handicap?

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  1. There is no question that there has been balance added to the schedule compared to previous years. This will work when the host nation is a major rugby supporting country and mid week fixtures are going to sell both at the grounds and on TV. The challenge is for when the Cup is held outside a major nation such as will be the case when Japan hosts the tournament.

    Adding a little time to the tournament would not be a bad idea though that creates a problem of making the tournament too long and losing attention of the fans.

    In the meantime the goal should be to continue to help the Tier 2 Nations grow and develop so that when there is a mid week match on short rest the Tier 2’s have the depth through the team to play competitively throughout the tournament.

    1. No team has the depth of the games are wrong, England would struggle with Wales then Australia 4 days apart. The more I think about it moving the knockout games is the most practical solution.

  2. A great, well balanced article which not only states the issues but provides workable solutions.
    Unlike other articles that brand it an English conspiracy (As if they make the fixtures draws!)

  3. What about Romania’s vital 3rd place decider against Italy on Sunday, after having played Canada on Tuesday?

    1. I did say that there are games left and this is how it’s looking like finishing. If Romania pull that off it would be fantastic for them but would not change the balance of how many European sides had already qualified.

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