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Your Guide To Final Qualification Tournament For The Rugby World Cup

19 Teams have qualified for the 2023 Rugby World Cup so far. 12 Of them made it in by finishing in the top three of their pools during the last World Cup, a further seven made it in through various regional qualifiers. One place remains with the 20th team to be determined by the final-qualification tournament. This tournament will involve Portugal, USA, Kenya, & Hong Kong. It will all happen in Dubai.

How it Works

It’s a round-robin tournament. It’s the same process as the final qualification tournament for 2019. Each team plays each other once in a neutral venue. The match points are awarded in the same way as most tournaments (4 for a win, 2 for a draw, 0 for a loss). As for bonus points it’s going to be the system used by the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, a try bonus point for scoring 4 or more tries, and a losing bonus point for losing by 7 or less points. The competition takes place between the 6th November and 18th November. Only the team that finishes first will qualify.

It’s not clearly stated what tie-breaking criteria will be applied on the official World Cup website. However, it is likely to be the same as the tie-breaking criteria for the World Cup itself which is:

  1. Most Matchday points
  2. Winner of the head-to-head match between the tied teams
  3. Points difference (Points scored minutes points conceded)

The Teams


Nickname: Os Lobos

World Ranking: 20th

World Cup Record:
Pool Stage in 2007

Portugal were the first team to qualify for the tournament, doing so as Europe 3 by finishing 3rd on the Rugby Europe Championship. Having originally missed out by finishing 4th, they were moved up to 3rd when Spain, who had finished second, were deducted points for fielding an ineligible players.
The Rugby Europe Championship took place between 2021 and 2022. Every team played each other twice (although Russia’s last three games were cancelled with their opponents being awarded the win). Portugal finished on 26 points, with 5 wins and a draw.


Nickname: The Eagles

World Ranking: 19th

World Cup Record:
Pool Stage in 1987, 1991, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019

USA played in the revamped Americas qualifiers. They beat Canada over two legs in the North America section, before losing to Uruguay over to legs in the Americas 1 qualifier. They then played in the Americas 2 qualifier against Chile where they lost over two legs.
USA enter the qualification tournament as Americas 3. If they don’t qualify it would be the firs time no North America side is represented in the World Cup.


Nickname: The Simbas

World Ranking: 33rd

World Cup Record:
Never qualified

In recent World Cup qualifiers Kenya have been the second best team after Africa. The African qualifiers involved a preliminary round before the second round had groups of three teams with the top two qualifying. Kenya finished second in their group having lost to Senegal before beating Zambia.

The next round was a 8-team knockout tournament which saw Kenya beat Uganda and Algeria before losing the final to Namibia 36-0. That tournament took place in France. It is a tournament that will be looked on disappointingly by Kenyan rugby with a loss to Senegal, only beating Algeria narrowly, and then getting hammered by Namibia.

Hong Kong

Nickname: The Dragons

World Ranking: 22nd

World Cup Record:
Never Qualified

Hong Kong had to do the least to qualify for this tournament. They hadn’t played a game in three years before the final of the revamped Asia Rugby Championship came along.
They narrowly beat out South Korea in the final by a score of 21-23. This meant the went to the Asia/Pacific play-off where the lost to Tonga 44-22 in the first meeting between the sides. So they have only had two qualifier games.


Times in Irish Time

Round 1 – Sunday 6th November
USA vs Kenya – 12:00
Portugal vs Hong Kong – 14:30

Round 2 – Saturday 12th November
Portugal vs Kenya – 12:00
USA vs Hong Kong – 14:30

Round 3 – Friday 18th November
Hong Kong vs Kenya – 13:00
USA vs Portugal – 15:30

All games are scheduled to take place at The Sevens, Dubai.

Where to Watch

If you’re in Ireland you can stream the games on RugbyWorldCup.com on this page!

The games are shown on various channels around USA/Canada, Portugal, Sub-Saharan Africa, Hong Kong & Asia, as well as Latin America, Netherlands, and Georgia. If you are in these countries or regions you can find the info for where to watch on RugbyWorldCup.com.

If you’re reading this from a country/region that’s not mentioned above you can stream it on RugbyWorldCup.com too at the same link as above!

Thoughts on the Tournament

It would be great to see an expanded World Cup in which these teams have already qualified and we are looking at a tournament with 4 different sides trying to get a 24th World Cup place. Regardless, this is a big tournament for these 4 teams which sees them play their biggest games in the World Cup cycle.

The favourites are USA and Portugal with the fixture list suggesting this is common knowledge. The final game will see a showdown between the sides with both expected to beat the other two teams.

Portugal have a big chance to make their second ever World Cup and put down a real marker in what has been a progressive few years in the Rugby championship. With USA hosting the World Cup in 2031 it would be a disaster if they were to miss out. The game has grown over there with Major League Rugby but if they were to miss out on the show piece for only the second time that would be a major setback.

As for Hong Kong and Kenya it would take something very special. Hong Kong have had limited game time and come into this tournament with little preparation. Kenya have been close to qualifying through the Africa Cup before but have always missed out. It would be a Rugby World Cup miracle if either of these teams were team number 20.

The winner of the tournament will join Wales, Australia, Fiji, and Georgia in Pool C.


The Issue With The RWC Draw

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.