In this series, Stuart will explore the means of expanding the participation number of rugby union’s crown jewel. This series will explore why expansion is needed, which nations should join, how the new tournament will play out, and how the new structure can be implemented for following tournaments.
Part 1 can be found here.
Part 2: The next 4 teams
This is where guesswork comes into the equation; if World Rugby follow the timing of the 2023 Rugby World Cup bids, they should announce the hosts of the 2027 tournament by November 2021. Currently, the bids in place are Australia, Argentina, and Russia…but with Argentina supposedly withdrawing their bid, and Russia being banned from hosting or competing in global sporting events until 2023, it currently looks like the tournament will, once again, be held Down Under.
As we still haven’t decided on the hosts, never mind the teams, we’re going to be using the teams that have already qualified for 2023, with a few extras to make up the numbers to reach 24 teams. Please bear with me, as a lot of this is guesswork, but it’s also hypothetical, so it’s all in the name of fun and progress.
So far, the top 3 teams from each pool in the 2019 Rugby World Cup have automatically qualified. These include:
- South Africa
- New Zealand
- Ireland (hooray!)
If they had not qualified already, France would have received automatic qualification, as the host nation.
To make up the remaining 8 teams for 2023, World Rugby have qualification tournaments in place. Some of these will be games scheduled during the designated international window by World Rugby. Others will form part of competitions that are already in place, such as the Rugby Europe Championship, and the Americas Rugby Championship.
The qualification process will have teams from the following regions. This is based on the qualification format for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, as the allocation for 2023 has yet to be confirmed:
- 2 teams from the Americas
- 2 from Oceania
- 1 from Europe
- 1 from Africa
- The winner of a Play-Off between Europe 2 and Oceania 3
- The winner of a Repechage tournament, consisting of
- the Play-Off loser
- Africa 2
- Americas 3
- and the winner of a play-off between Asia 1 and Oceania 4.
For this new scenario, I would grant an extra team allocation to Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, to bring the total up to 24.
Now, while these qualification competitions won’t even start until 2021, I’ll be using the highest allocated teams from each region in the world rankings, at the conclusion of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The playoff winner will be the next team from either Europe or Oceania. The repechage winner will be the next highest ranked team from any global region.
Therefore, my 12 remaining teams will be:
- USA (Americas 1)
- Uruguay (Americas 2)
- Canada (Americas 3)
- Tonga (Oceania 1)
- Samoa (Oceania 2)
- Georgia (Europe 1)
- Spain (Europe 2)
- Namibia (Africa 1)
- Kenya (Africa 2)
- Hong Kong (Asia 1)
- Romania (Play-off winner)
- Russia (Repechage winner)
OK, so now we have all our 24 teams. In this hypothetical scenario, 2 teams (Kenya and Hong Kong) will make their first appearance at the Rugby World Cup. That opens up a market of 47.6 and 7.4 million, respectively. Even just getting 20% of that is 11 million more people engaged in the sport we love.
So, we have our 24 teams, and we’re all set for the tournament to take place in (probably) Australia. But the addition of new teams means that the current format will have to change. Player safety is also of paramount importance, so we don’t want to increase the total number of games each team plays. In fact, we may want to decrease their individual playing time. On the other hand, we need to show that this format change is profitable, which usually means more matches to be sold for TV rights.
So, can we increase the number of total games played, while maintaining or decreasing the total number of games each team plays? We’ll discuss that in the next article…
Stuart also hosts Hard Line Rugby on YouTube, which focuses on rugby union in the Americas. Check it out & subscribe here!
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