4 groups of 5; there’s a problem there. We see it every World Cup. Some teams end up having to play after stupidly few day turn arounds. It’s nonsense to have a team play on Saturday or Sunday and then be made to play on Wednesday or Thursday in the Rugby World Cup. And usually it’s the smaller nations that get shafted.
Japan heroically beat South Africa in 2015, the biggest upset in modern rugby history. That was a Saturday. Then they had to go play Scotland on the next Wednesday, the Scots having not played a game yet. You could see in the 2nd half Japan were exhausted. The Cherry Blossoms would go on to win their final games against Samoa and the USA, and would finish 3rd. I often wonder if Japan had a reasonable turn around in between the South Africa and Scotland games they would have had every chance of making the Quarter Finals? Who knows where they could’ve gone with Wales to play next. Had Wales ever beaten anybody in a World Cup Quarter Final? I have repressed memories of that.
Two solutions to this problem; change the number of teams in a group or change the number of teams in a tournament. First, the number of teams in a group. They could make it 5 groups of 4, and use a similar format as the Heineken Cup, the top 5 teams progress and the 3 best 3rd place teams follow them. They could even use the same system to determine the fixtures (1 v 8, 2 v 7, etc…). Here’s what that would look like if the seeding was taken from the rankings at the time of writing (if the top 5 were the top seeds, next 5 were the 2nd seeds, and so on):
The main issues with this format is that 1) it makes the pools less competitive by spreading the top teams thinner 2) It means the qualifiers will be determined by results against the weakest teams (for example, Tonga could qualify by bonus pointing Fiji and Namibia ahead of Argentina if they were to lose a game). This isn’t the way to go.
Instead the World Cup should be expanded. Add 4 teams and have everybody play over Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Sure it means we aren’t completely saturated with rugby like we are during global football tournaments, but it gives teams a chance and is better for player welfare. It would also mean adding one more week to the tournament, so the joy lasts longer. Based on this years qualifiers, we could have the teams that missed out in the repechage (Kenya, Hong Kong, and Germany) and possibly the winner of a new qualifying round-robin involving the next best four teams (based on the qualifiers it could potentially have been any 4 of Portugal, Cook Islands, Chile, Uganda, South Korea. IT may have made sense to have South Korea in there as an extra Asian team, and then possibly a qualifier to decide the remaining place). Here’s how the groups could have looked under that format.
I would like to see a rule brought in to ensure that for the bottom 3 seeds, there can only be 1 team from each region. Some may say that expanding the World Cup might lead to massive scorelines (in the FIFA womens World Cup we got USA 13 – 0 Thailand). However we get results like that anyway, and it will lead to a better chance to rotate players.
It would remain the same that the top two qualify with the 3rd team getting qualification for the next World Cup. However one thing I will write about in future would be adding both a second tier. There could be a sort of promotion and relegation from the World Cup into the World Shield, and World Challenge. There could also be a tournament for the teams that come 3rd and 4th to go into, like a trophy style tournament. I will go into this in further detail in the future, but for now one thing that has to be sorted out is the odd number of teams in each pool to prevent ridiculous turnarounds.
Ciarán is the Producer and Presenter of Post to Post Sport (@PostToPostSport), a sports podcast that covers rugby, football, wrestling, and Irish Sport News. You can get their podcasts on MixCloud our Spotify (Search PostToPostSport) and PlayerFM (Post to Post Sport).