RW debates whether changes to the format could take the tournament to another level
What should the next Rugby World Cup look like? Is the current format working as well as it could? Rugby World’s Alan Pearey and Josh Graham offer their thoughts…
ALAN PEAREY, writer and sub-editor
We’ve heard commentators refer at this Rugby World Cup to “so-called Tier Two” countries, as if they view the term with disdain. Or perhaps they are unsure where the distinction between Tier One and Tier Two lies? And if so that would be understandable.
Because if you watched Uruguay’s performance against France, or Portugal’s against Wales, or some of Chile’s attacking ingenuity, what you see is a team lower down the world rankings proving they can compete on a global stage. Affirming that they deserve to be here.
The decision to treat countries equitably, building suitable rest periods into the schedule for all, has benefited the lower-ranked nations. And your mind wonders just what strides they could make if World Rugby could go further.
Why, when football is expanding the FIFA World Cup to 48 teams, is rugby union still stuck on 20, the same number we had in 1999? If the big cheeses in Dublin want to support their pledges to grow the sport, rugby should up the numbers to 24 teams at Rugby World Cup. With a view to making it bigger again somewhere down the line.
In fairness, they have already made noises. And quite right too. Why would you not invite more people to the party? It gives players and coaches from those nations the chance to grow their game, to attract new supporters, promote new markets and commercial opportunities.
Those emerging countries need to be supported, financially and with coaching expertise. We don’t want to see 100-point thrashings. But then it’s 16 years since the last of those and the average margin between Tier One and Tier Two has been falling with every tournament.
World Rugby’s commendable work on creating new regional competitions and pathways has done a lot to bring that about.
That’s why we now see the thrilling Flying Fijians, with their Super Rugby players, playing Australia and Wales on equal terms. Wouldn’t it be nice to see New Zealand play their first official Test in Suva? Or Spain, a top-20 nation, play France, Ireland or England?
And while we are at it, how about a Plate competition for teams finishing fourth and fifth in their World Cup pool. With the substantial carrot of automatic qualification for the next World Cup on offer to the winners.
Imagine, say, Georgia and Tonga going hammer and tongs in a match to win a piece of silverware. Instead of just getting on a plane straight after their last pool match – as the Tongans did at the previous France-based World Cup in 2007, when they caught a flight home just hours after playing England.
The teams are already in situ, let them stay a little longer. It would round out the World Cup experience and make it truly inclusive.
JOSH GRAHAM, content editor
I’ll start by saying I don’t think there’s too much wrong with the Rugby World Cup format. The lopsided nature of the draw is an obvious one but it appears the lesson has been learnt after World Rugby vowed to carry out future draws much closer to the start of a tournament.
The only other complaint I have now is that games feel too sparse. But when you factor in that the minimum six-day turnaround has been introduced for player welfare and helps the weaker nations sustain their four-yearly peak then it is hard to be too critical.
The displays of Chile, Uruguay and Portugal, to name a few, have been arguably the most heart-warming of the entire tournament. Punching well above their weight and with such pride too makes them a pleasure to watch.
While I would never argue against seeing more of them in action, I do not believe in creating a Shield or Plate for the lower-ranked teams in the pool to play in as we move towards the knockouts. That sounds like Mickey Mouse rugby to me.
The joy I get from seeing Tier Two nations excel now is that it means something. This is the World Cup, the pinnacle. Even if you cannot make it into the top two of a pool then coming third brings the considerable reward of automatically qualifying for the next tournament.
The real vote of confidence from World Rugby would be to organise more quality fixtures for these teams in-between World Cup cycles, so they can test themselves against strong opposition more regularly and therefore improve. Their strength and entertainment value should not be a well-guarded secret that we ‘rediscover’ every four years.
There is a simple way to fix a lot of the problems outlined here and expanding the World Cup to 24 teams makes a whole lot of sense. I’d favour four pools of six as you would create more winnable fixtures for Tier Two sides with more of them in the same pool. That avoids the regrettable situation Romania have found themselves in this time with the Pool of Death.
There is no shortage of depth out there and I would even suggest there are at least two teams better than ones at the World Cup not in France. The likes of USA, Canada and Spain would be great additions and that still leaves one spot for a new country to emerge. Give us 24 teams and keep it meaningful.
What do you think? Let us know what you would change about the World Cup by emailing email@example.com
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.