Is it time to expand the Rugby World Cup?
For the first time since 1987, Canada failed to qualify for the Rugby World Cup, excluding them from France 2023.
The Canucks lost to Chile 46-54 overall in an impressive qualifying round, which also saw Los Teros beat the United States for America’s 1 spot in Pool A.
Now the United States will face Chile for the Americas 2 spot in Pool D, in which Chile is playing for a historic World Cup spot.
This means the loser will advance to the draft tournament for one last chance to qualify in Pool C.
While many North American fans will lament their teams’ recent performances, the qualifying round showed impressive growth in South America.
This comes especially after the introduction of SLAR, where local players now play higher level regular matches.
With a rise in South American but also European rugby, where Romania, Portugal and Spain are vying for the place of Europe 2, the game must ask if it is time to extend the World Cup. rugby?
Anyone watching the Wallabies’ recent games would have seen the recent Australia 2027 logo. It’s no secret that Australia want to be the next host after France in 2023.
Recently, the United States, an interesting prospect, also launched their bid for the World Cups in 2027, 2029 and 2031. However, few fans seem to be aware of the other 2027 candidate, Russia.
While Australia has started to advertise and the US will release more details on their hosting offer soon, little is known about the Russian offer.
There will be 14 major stadiums in 13 cities, and it is supported by Vladimir Putin.
Yet, according to Americas Rugby News, the Russian bid is also interested in moving from 20 to 24 teams.
With three World Cups organized in the northern hemisphere (England, Japan, France), Australia is the big favorite to host the tournament after Argentina’s withdrawal.
But maybe World Rugby should consider the notion of expansion in 2027 or 2031. Bill Beaumont briefly discussed these ideas, stating either in 2027 or 2031.
Already with 14 of the 20 teams confirmed for 2023, there are seven of the 40 repeat group matches of 2019: Italy v New Zealand, Ireland v Scotland, Australia v Wales, Australia v Fiji, Fiji v Wales, England against Argentina and Japan against Samoa.
Hypothetically, if Namibia qualifies from Africa 1, USA 2 and Georgia from Europe 1, the number of repeat matches could drop to 14/40 from 2019: Namibia v New Zealand and Italy, Georgia against Australia, Wales and Fiji, and the United States against Argentina and England.
With so few qualified teams, repeat matches are a given, but are starting to get stale. The repetition only gets worse if you look further back.
Already, 2023 will be the third consecutive tournament (fourth overall) where Australia, Fiji and Wales have faced each other in the group stages.
For Wales and Fiji, this spans five consecutive tournaments. It’s hard to keep the excitement going when you watch the same games over and over again. There would likely be more excitement in 2027 if Wales don’t play Fiji.
Increasing the number of teams allows marginal teams (like Chile) to qualify and have a variety of different matches which are rarer for fans.
After all, fans love weird matches, just watch when Ireland faced Romania in 2015, establishing the highest attendance at the World Cup.
In 2025, the Women’s World Cup drops to 16 after five iterations of the tournament in hopes of expanding the game for women around the world and increasing the number of teams participating in peak events.
Certainly, after seven contested tournaments, the Men’s World Cup is also expected to experience expansion.
Obviously, there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Usually it’s the buzz of quality between Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations.
Many people fear that Tier 2 nations will be flogged like when Australia destroyed Namibia 142-0 in 2003 or New Zealand crushed Japan 145-17.
Yet looking at the most recent tournament, the biggest beating was Russia dropping 61 points to Scotland. That’s not as bad as it looks, given that Russia only entered the tournament by default after Romania and Spain were disqualified from qualifying.
In fact, 2019 had the lowest winning margin average between Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams (30.5 points), despite four games ending in zero for the losing Tier 2 team (two of which were Russia). .
If 30 points is still a lot, it shows that the level 2 nations are more competitive than ever.
In fact, many of these Tier 2 nations now have professional club teams based in their own countries competing in competitions such as Rugby Super Liga America and European Rugby Super Cup.
The next hurdle would be the format of the competition. Currently, World Rugby has four pools of five, where the top two advance to the quarter-finals. So where to go with 24 teams? In reality, there are three options.
Option 1: four pools of six
This would mean increasing the number of games each team has to play in an already busy schedule. The top two teams could qualify for the final.
Alternatively, the leader of each pool could advance to the semi-finals, while the teams placed second and third would meet in the quarter-finals. However, a schedule like this probably wouldn’t be the preferred one due to player well-being and timing.
Option 2: six pools of four
It would look like the 1994 FIFA World Cup where each team plays three matches in its own pool. The top two teams from each pool make up 12, and the top four from third-ranked teams advance to a historic round of 16.
This would reduce the number of matches in the group stages and increase the number of matches in the final series. This could potentially be a go-to option as the playoffs are where the excitement is.
Option 3: eight pools of three
This is the most unusual option. Each team of a hen would compete once. After that, only one cross pool play could occur depending on the positioning.
For example, the winner of Pool A would play Pool B’s wooden spoon, and vice versa, leaving the middle teams to compete. The best team from each pool on points continues until the quarter-finals.
This would mean that each team only plays three matches in the group stages, as in the 1987 World Cup. This is a decrease in matches for each team, and also allows more rest time between matches. .
Whatever solution World Rugby deems appropriate for handling the group stages, it will not want to go beyond the designated testing window. However, once the group stages are finalized, the next obstacle would be to decide on the qualifying places. With an enlarged World Cup, there are more qualifying places.
Currently, the top three from each pool at the end of the Rugby World Cup qualify for the next tournament. Europe and the Americas have both secured two qualifying spots, while Africa and Oceania each have one. The latter two go to intercontinental qualifying via Asia / Pacific and the final repechage competition.
Realistically, Europe and the Americas would most likely get an additional spot, where more competitive teams such as Portugal, Romania and Spain are already ranked in the top 20. The challenge of awarding qualifications is located in Africa and Asia, which are mostly Level 3 Teams.
African teams would probably fare better than Asian teams, where outside of Japan they lack competitiveness. A safer option for ensuring teams are competitive would be to increase the draft qualifying spots.
Whatever teams are qualified, the increase in teams is accompanied by new commercial markets in an increasingly globalized world. The expansion attracts new fans, which makes the game grow and make it more sustainable.
The larger TV revenues inject more money into the game and allow World Rugby to support the development of more countries. Germany, one of the richest countries in Europe, came close to qualifying in 2019.
Who knows how German rugby would have benefited if he had qualified for the group stages instead of Canada? Without a new squad since 2011, all fans should be cheering on Chile, who aim to clinch their top spot in the World Cup.
However, before any expansion, it’s up to Tier 1 teams to play against Tier 2 teams more regularly to ensure they are competitive for World Cups and get a chance.
After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Japan was a Tier 2 team. Now they are invited to join the rugby championship. So bravo to Japan, which faces Portugal, and to Italy, which faces Uruguay in November.