Monday, November 22, 2010

The IRB Proven Wrong Again

Portugal will not be at Rugby World Cup 2011 after finishing fourth in the European zone of qualification behind Georgia, Russia and Romania. This meant they were eliminated. On Saturday they hosted the winners of the African zone, Namibia, who as winners directly qualified for Rugby World Cup 2011. Coimbra, Portugal was the setting with the home side winning 24-12, scoring two tries to zero to again point out clearly that Africa´s champion having automatic Rugby World Cup Qualification is not a reflection of ability. It was a similar story at home vs Russia in 2009 with the Europeans winning 30-15. The Africans sit in 20th in the IRB World Rankings with Uruguay 21st and Portugal 22nd. They are in this position thanks to winning the 2010 IRB Nations Cup in Romania but, importantly, won against Romania and Georgia who were both far from being at full strength.

A simple question that the IRB needs to address: If Africa recieves an automatic qualifier at Rugby World Cup´s then why doesn´t South America?

Africa has been handed an automatic qualifier in every Rugby World Cup despite the team in question never having won a match. In Rugby World Cup 1987 and 1991 Zimbabwe competed as the only African side and was winless. South Africa returned from their banned status in test rugby to host and compete in Rugby World Cup 1995 and won the tournament. Their participation was not as the only African side as Africa retained a guaranteed participant via qualification which saw Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) play in South Africa 1995 and do so without winning a match. Their participation meant that neither Fiji or the USA played as both Oceania and the Americas were only alloted two places which saw Samoa, Tonga, Argentina and Canada participating.

Rugby World Cup 1995 having room for Côte d'Ivoire but room for neither Fiji nor the USA was nothing less than a travesty. Fiji were a Quarter Finalists at Rugby World Cup 1987 and the USA had defeated Japan at the same tournament. The IRB addressed this problem by expanding in time for Rugby World Cup 1999 when 20 rather than 16 teams participated. Africa continued to have two teams with South Africa as champions not needing to qualify and Namibia advancing automatically as winners of the African zone of qualification matches. Namibia lost 20-17 to Tunisia but defeated Zimbabwe 32–26 in round three to advance to the final round which they won after defeating Côte d'Ivoire 22-10, Morocco 17-8 and Zimbabwe again, this time by 39–14.

In 1999 Uruguay also made their first appearance at a Rugby World Cup. They advanced to the final round of Americas Qualification after defeating Paraguay 43-3 and Uruguay 20-14. In the final round Argentina, Canada and the USA all advanced to Rugby World Cup 1999 and Uruguay entered repercharge. Uruguay first faced off against Portugal in two matches and won them both by scores of 46–9 and 33-24. They then faced Morocco and after winning the first match 18-3 but losing the second 21–18 they advanced to Rugby World Cup 1999 as winners on aggregate. Los Teros faced Scotland, South Africa and Spain in Pool A and started with a 27-15 win vs Spain before losing 43–12 to Scotland and 39–3 to South Africa. Namibia, at the same tournament lost 67–18 to Fiji,  47–13 to France and 72–11 to Canada to be eliminated without winning a match, unlike Uruguay.

Despite both Argentina and Uruguay winning matches, South America were not allocated an automatic qualification place for its winner. Argentina qualified automatically as Quarter Finalists from 1999 and Uruguay, after defeating Canada, Chile and the USA in qualification qualified as Americas 2 behind the Canadians. The USA entered repercharge and won their way to Australia 2003. All American teams won matches with Argentina defeating Romania and Namibia by big scores, Canada defeating Tonga, the USA defeating Japan and Uruguay defeating Georgia 24-12. Namibia, in contrast, were a failure losing all their matches: 67-14 vs Argentina, 64-7 vs Ireland, 142-0 vs Australia and 37-7 vs Romania.

Uruguay´s win compared to Namibia´s uncompetitiveness should have raised concern at the status quo but it didn´t. Seemingly, Uruguay´s two Rugby World Cup wins count for little or nothing in the eyes of the IRB. For Rugby World Cup 2007 Namibia qualified again as winners of the African zone and Uruguay finished as the second best in South America behind Argentina who had to qualify after missing out on a Quarter Final by 1 point vs Ireland in 2003. Uruguay entered repercharge vs Portugal and lost the first match 12-5 in Lisbon but won the second 18-12 in Montevideo after playing 70 minutes with 14 men. The aggregate result meant Portugal won by 1 point (24-23) and qualified for its first ever Rugby World Cup. Portugal Competed in Pool B and lost all four matches - 56-10 vs Scotland, 108-13 vs New Zealand, 31-5 vs Italy and 14-10 vs Romania. Winless, but better than Namibia vs comparable opposition in the previous Rugby World Cup.

In their third Rugby World Cup in 2007, Namibia were winless again. They were defeated 32-17 by Ireland, 87-10 by France, 63-3 by Argentina and 30-0 by Georgia. The results were slightly inferior to those of Portugal who were Rugby World Cup debutants. Namibia have again guaranteed their participation at the next Rugby World Cup after winning the African zone of qualification. Uruguay as undefeated winners of South America did not advance. Instead they faced North America 2 - the USA and came off second best. To this day South America continues to be the only continent in the world which is not given an automatic place at a Rugby World Cup for the team who wins its qualification zone. Uruguay will battle it out with Romania in Bucharest this coming saturday with the winner advancing to New Zealand 2011.

Remarkably, there has only ever been won match between Namibia and Uruguay and Uruguay won 23-12 back in 2000. More matches are obviously required but the result alongside Uruguay and Namibia´s history at Rugby World Cup´s and Portugal´s win on Saturday all suggest strongly that the IRB have got the Rugby World Cup Qualification very wrong. South America is the victim.

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