This piece is adapted from an article we originally wrote for Harpin’ On Rugby ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers that took place over the Summer.
When the World Cup draw was made, only 12 teams had qualified. Since then, 7 more have secured their place while 1 spot still remains. The final place will be decided in November during the four team qualifier tournament involving Portugal, Chile, Kenya, and USA.
But there have to be questions asked about the draw being made almost 3 years before the actual tournament. The seeding was based on the World Rankings in January 2020, basically the rankings following the 2019 RWC. There is some sense in letting the previous World Cup have some say in the seedings for the next one, but that should really be limited to the World Champions being a top seed.
We can see an issue with the way the draw has worked out. Namely that France were ranked 7th at the time of the draw and have since become one of the best teams in the World. The French now find themselves as 2nd seeds in a pool with New Zealand. If the draw was based on rankings closer to the World Cup we wouldn’t see teams suffer from not being as good 4 years previous to the tournament as they are at the time of the actual tournament.
When to do the draw?
One of the reasons touted for doing the draw so early is to allow for ticket sales. There are two more pressing issues:
- The relevance of the World Rankings
- The identity of the teams that have qualified
I’ll get on to the issue with not knowing the identities of the TBD sides (labelled with the likes of Europe 1, Americas 2, Africa 1, Final Qualification Tournament) at the time of the draw. But first up are the rankings.
For one thing, I’m a firm believer in the host or hosts being top seeds. France should have been top seed number 1, with South Africa being top seed number 2 as champions. The other two places in pot 1 should go to the next highest ranked sides in the World. Pot 2 should follow with the next best 4 teams after that. The most effective way of deciding on the seeds would be to wait until after the November internationals the year prior to the World Cup. This would give teams a full three years worth of games to improve their rankings, or for their ranking to get worse. Either way it gives a fairer look of where each team is at with under a year to the World Cup.
The reality is when the draw is made teams are going to have tournaments (Six Nations, Rugby Championship, Americas Rugby Championship etc), Summer Tours, and November tests. The 12 teams that automatically qualify are unlikely to all be in the same place as they were 3 years prior to the tournament. If the draw takes place after the last set of November internationals, teams have a World Cup cycle to fight for their ranking and there is still enough time to sort out tickets and stadiums.
And Another Thing…
Something that has irked me about World Cups is that teams from the same tournament are lumped in together. And in some cases, the majority of teams from the regions without much representation get lumped in together.
In RWC2019 there were:
- Both African teams in Pool B (South Africa & Namibia)
- 2 Americas Rugby Championship sides in Pool C (Argentina & USA)
In RWC2015 there were:
- 3 Pacific Nations Cup Teams in Pool B (Japan, Samoa, & USA)
- 3 Six Nations Sides in Pool D plus another European side (Ireland, France, Italy, & Romania)
In RWC2012 there were:
- 4 European sides in Pool B (England, Scotland, Georgia, & Romania)
- Both African sides in Pool D (South Africa & Namibia)
- 2 Pacific islander sides in Pool D (Samoa & Fiji).
I would argue to give the World Cup more of a, well, WORLD feeling to it, teams should be spread out more. This is another issue that arises when the draw is made before all the teams are identified, as we do not yet know where the final qualifier will be from.
If there are 8 or 9 teams from Europe, including 6 from the Six Nations, in the World Cup, I would argue there should be no more than 2 sides from the Six Nations and no more than a total of 3 European sides in each pool. As for the Rugby Championship sides, it’s more complicated with Japan joining, Argentina playing in the Americas Rugby Championship, and the presences of a side from Africa. With only 2 or at most 3 Africa sides in the tournament, they should all be spread out, as should the 3 (possibly 4) Americas sides that qualify. I would argue the Pacific Islands (Fiji, Tonga, & Samoa) should be kept separate from each other, put not necessarily the other sides in the Pacific region. Japan may be an exception to this if they are playing in the Pacific Nations Cup.
These things could be sorted out through having pots 4 and 5 in the draw arranged geographically. One thing they do in the football World Cup is skip a group if a team is drawn out to play in a group with too many teams from that region.
What do you think about the World Cup Draw? To early? Too much geographical congestion? Let us know on the social channels. or leave a comment below.