Rugby Thoughts – Rugby World Cup 2019 Qualification

About a month ago I asked if we would only have 1 Pacific Island team at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. World Rugby had already confirmed that there would be the ability for at least 3 teams to qualify from the Oceania region and they confirmed the process this week. Here’s my look and opinion on the process.

How Qualification worked for 2011 and 2015

First let’s remind ourselves of how the qualification from the previous 2 Rugby World Cups has worked.

  • The 12 teams that finish in the top three in their pools at the previous Rugby World Cup qualify.
  • 7 teams qualify from regional competitions split:
    • Africa 1
    • Americas 2
    • Asia 1
    • Europe 2
    • Oceania 1
  • 1 team from the Repechage which consists of teams from:
    • Africa 1
    • Americas 1
    • Asia 1
    • Europe 1

Qualification from Rugby World Cup results

Again there will be the 12 teams that finished in the top three of their pools. Here is the breakdown of the qualification via this method from the last 3 Rugby World Cups:

Region 2011 2015 2019
Africa 1 1 1
Americas 1 1 1
Asia 0 0 1
Europe 6 6 7
Oceania 4 4 2

As you can see due to Georgia and Japan qualifying through their Rugby World Cup performances there has been a shift in the balance of teams from the regions.

World Rugby’s Options

World Rugby had 3 options:

  1. Leave the qualification as it was and have two from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga miss out.
  2. Change the balance of the qualification slots taking a qualification slot from Europe and a repechage slot from Japan (or visa versa) and allocating them to Oceania.
  3. Change from a relatively simple qualification process that people understood, to a convoluted one that is confusing and few will take the time to understand.

Clearly option 1 was never going to happen and whilst I hoped for option 2 that’s not the way of bureaucrats. You’ve guessed it we now have a convoluted process and I’ll try to untangle it for you.

How Qualification will work for 2019

Africa will get 1 qualification slot and 1 place in the repechage as before. These teams will come from the winner and runner-up of the Rugby Africa Championship so simple and even chance for all teams.

Americas also get the 2 qualification slots and 1 place in the repechage as before. Here’s where the bias starts to be seen. The USA and Canada will playoff for 1 qualification slot. The loser gets a shot at the second slot in a game against the top South American side excluding Argentina. The loser of that game gets the repechage slot. So USA and Canada get three shots at qualifying for the Rugby World Cup in Japan. The other sides in the Americas have to first win a competition and then have two shots at qualification.

Previously the regions qualified individually and only overlapped for the repechage. That’s no longer the case and this is where it gets convoluted.

Let’s start with Oceania. Fiji, Samoa and Tonga will play a round robin competition from which two will qualify for Japan. The third gets another chance and we’ll come to that in a second.

Europe will have one team that qualifies from the Rugby European Championship. The second team will get anther chance by playing the third place from Oceania for a qualification slot. With the loser going to the repechage so again these teams are getting three shots at the prize.

So we have one last repechage slot to take care of. The winner of the Asian Rugby Championship (or second if Japan win) will playoff against the winner of the Oceania Cup. The winner will get a repechage slot. FYI the Oceania Cup is for the teams below Tier 2 in the region so it doesn’t include Fiji, Samoa or Tonga.

The winner of the four team repechage will also qualify for Japan.

My Opinion

World Rugby have taken a nice easy to understand process that gave each team a similar chance of qualifying. Then they have made it convoluted with some teams getting 3 chances where as others have to jump through hoops just to get one.

At the moment I have mixed feelings about World Rugby. We are hearing good things about increasing the representation on the council. The exact distribution of those seats though is up in the air. During the Rugby World Cup the authorities hung a ref out to dry with an unprecedented press release. Now we have this convoluted qualification process, it seems that every step forward comes with one back or at least to the side.

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