World Rugby have made the decision to base the seeding for the 2023 Rugby World Cup on the World Rankings as of January 1st this year. Despite currently sitting 4th in the rankings, Ireland were 5th at the start of the year, and will be a second seed for the World Cup draw.
That means they will face one of World Champions South Africa, New Zealand, World Cup Runners-Up England, or Wales. Also in Ireland’s pot are Australia, France, and Japan. Pot 3 features Scotland Argentina, Fiji, and Italy.
The other 2 bands will be made up of teams who come through the qualifiers. There will be two other qualifiers from Europe, with the winners of the 2021-22 Rugby Europe Championship going into pot 4 as Europe 1, and the runners-up going into Pot 5 as Europe 2. The 3rd placed team will go into the Qualifying Tournament.
Oceania will potentially have 2 more teams in the World Cup. Oceania 1 will be the winner of the two-legged play-off between Samoa and Tonga. The loser of this tie will play the 2021 Oceania Rugby Cup champions, with the winner of that tie going on the face the 2021 Asia Rugby Championship winners in a cross-regional play-off. The winner of that play-off will go into pot 4, the losers go into the Qualifying tournament. Hong Kong would be favorites for the Asia championship, however Samoa or Tonga would be overwhelming favorites to win this play-off.
The Americas have 2 guaranteed qualifying spots. The qualifying process is yet to be confirmed. Americas 1 and Americas 2 will go into pot 4 and 5 respectively, with Americas 3 going into the Qualifying tournament.
The winners of the 2022 Africa Cup will qualify as Africa 1 and be in band 5. The runners-up will go into the Qualifying tournament. Namibia have been dominant in the Africa Cup in recent years, with Kenya favorites to take the runners-up spot.
The final place in Pot 5 will be determined by a Qualification tournament. This will be contested by the runners-up of the Africa 2, Americas 3, Europe 3, and either an Asian or Pacific team. This will be the winner of a play-off between the loser of the play-off between Oceania 2 and Asia 1, and the next best Pacific team.
There’s a lot to unpack there, but this will all become clearer as we get closer to the final tournament. The draw will take place in December in Paris.
It’s been brought up a few times over the past World Cups, why is the draw so far away from the final tournament. As you can see from above there are still 40% of the places in the tournament up for grabs. It would surely be better to make the tournament draw when we have a nation to put in over Africa 1 and Europe 1 and so on.
In addition to this the rugby landscape will likely change again over the next few years. The rankings will change and change again. As of now the draw is being made primarily on how the teams got on in the last World Cup and disregarding how they will have done in the years between the next World Cup. 2022 after the November internationals would be a good time to make the draw as it would be a truer reflection on how the teams are doing, taking into accounts the past Six Nations, Rugby Championships, and international tests. Although it does seem apt that the 4 semi-finalists of last time around are rewarded with being top seeds.
Who Do We Want?
Pot 1 offers 4 teams that Ireland would preferably like to avoid. The world champions South Africa had been through turbulent times in the run-up to the previous tournament. It’s yet to be seen how they will do next time around and in the years between. England and Wales offer the prospect of the devil we know. It may be better to play one of those sides. When it comes to England against Ireland in recent years it has usually been a case of one side going through a very good time and one side going through a slump. Whereas Wales often seem to have Ireland’s number, with 2011 still ingrained in many of our minds. New Zealand are the only side to have never lost a pool game that has gone ahead, with the called-off game against Italy being deemed a draw acting as something of a frustrating asterix on that record.
In terms of Pot 3 it seems Italy would be the preferred side to draw, with again the case of devil we know. Fiji could cause problems with their pacey offloading, Scotland will like their chances, and Argentina always trouble Ireland on big stages. Beyond that into Pot 4 and 5, Ireland should be beating whoever they get with a bonus point if they want to have a chance of making that elusive semi-final.