Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The IRB Mess Up 2015 Qualification

The big announcement coming from the International Rugby Board (IRB) was that Mexico City will be the setting for the start of the long process of qualifying matches for Rugby World Cup 2015. Mexico will host Jamaica with neither side having any remote chance of playing in England 2015 but both showcasing that rugby is a sport continuing to grow and become global. Or is it?

Have the IRB got the process of qualification correct? 
Scotland vs Uruguay , 1999

Will the result be that 2015 has the best twenty teams at the showcase event of the sport? Unfortunately not. The governing body of rugby, the IRB, have again failed to address the continuing issue of Africa. The continent has had an automatic qualifier at every World Cup, even with the return of South Africa from the wilderness in 1995. The Cote d´Ivoire was a participant at the 1995 tournament while neither Fiji nor the USA qualified as their regions were restricted to two qualifiers each with Samoa, Tonga, Canada and Argentina being the teams. With World Cup´s expanded from sixteen to twenty teams in 1999 it meant both Fiji and the USA were able to compete, as both should have done so in 1995. It also was a tournament with three debutants - Namibia, Spain and Uruguay. Namibia qualified automatically as Africa 1, Spain was a European qualifier while Uruguay got through Americas´ qualification to then win the repercharge play-off by defeating Morocco and Portugal. At the 1999 tournament Uruguay defeated Spain while Namibia´s first World Cup was not memorable as it had a winless tournament and got hammered by Fiji, Franca and Canada, with the Canadians completing a record 72-11 win.

Australian full-back Chris Latham scores one of his record-breaking tries against Namibia
Chris Latham goes in for Australia 
Four years latter, things got worse for Namibia as the African country again qualified by virtue of the continent being given an automatic qualifying position, unlike South America. Uruguay qualified for 2003 after defeating Chile and the USA during qualification. At Australia 2003 Uruguay got a win over debutants Georgia, the USA defeated Japan and Canada defeated Tonga while pushing Italy to the limit. Namibia, in contrast, was the weakest side at the tournament losing all its matches with scores of 67-14 vs Argentina, 64-7 vs Ireland, 142-0 vs Australia and 37-7 vs Romania. The writting was on the wall for all to see as Namibia was evidently not a better side than the four teams from the Americas and something had to be done so that the team would not qualify ahead of better teams at future World Cup´s.

Ignacio Corleto breaking clear in 2007
The IRB failed to act and in Rugby World Cup 2007, Namibia was again a direct qualifier as Africa one and again went through the tournament winless. An out of form Ireland was given a harder than expected match but the Europeans nonetheless won 32-17. France then ran out 87-10 winners, Argentina won 63-3 and Georgia won 30-0. Georgia was at the World Cup for the second time and had to face the likes of Portugal, Romania, Russia and Spain during qualification. Namibia, had an easier road with matches against Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia. No matches were played against teams who had won a match at a World Cup tournament nor against a team anywhere near being in the World´s top 25. Portugal were in France 2007 debuting after a one point win on aggregate over Uruguay. The South Americans were unlucky to have secondrower Juan Bado red carded early on. Portugal won over the hearts of people attending matches in St. Ettiene, Lyon, Paris and Toulouse. The utter underdogs were popular with tries vs Scotland and New Zealand in losing 56-10 and 108-13. The Portuguese then prevented Italy from scoring a bonus point and were hard done by to lose at the death by 14-10 vs Romania.

Namibian players reflect vs Wales
The IRB continued with the, by now very controversial, policy of having Africa 1 qualify directly for World Cup´s. It had prevented Uruguay from participating at Rugby World Cup 2007 just like the USA and Fiji has missed out in 1995. Namibia, again had few problems in qualifying as the best African side, with a country with no World Cup experience, Tunisia finishing as Africa 2. Uruguay went through South American qualification undefeated and then had to face the USA and after losing both matches faced Kazakhstan and then Romania. The extent of the controversy was no small matter as the IRB were seemingly blind to the inconsistent qualifying matches handed to teams of comparable abilities. Namibia failed to justify its special treatment at Rugby World Cup 2011 as the African country was the weakest side of the tournament. Namibia´s campaign started with a 49-25 loss to a weak Fiji side, Samoa then won 49-12 four days latter. Namibia then lost 87-0 vs South Africa and lastly lost 81-7 to Wales. No other team, including debutants Russia, came close to conceeding as many points. Short turnarounds are as tough ask for any side, but it is tougher on the Second and, in the case of Namibia, Third Tier teams. Short Turnarounds, however do not,  account for why Namibia has been unable to seriously compete at World Cup´s. The African nation is simply there because the IRB have an automatic slot allocated for the best African team aside from South Africa. With no Tier Two teams at all and no teams who have won a match at a World Cup within the continent the time is overdue for this controversial policy to be changed.

The IRB´s time to act was Monday of this week and the governing body failed. Africa 1, with zero wins from twenty-four World Cup Matches, again has been rewarded with an automatic spot allocated while should Uruguay, with two wins from seven World Cup matches, qualify it will have to win the South American leg and then either defeat Canada or the USA or qualify via reperchage. In other words, not only has the IRB failed to make any changes at all but it has messed up the 2015 tournament as some are more advantaged over others despite not having anything that could be used as evidence to suggest Namibia merit a place in a World Cup equal to or more so than the likes of Canada, Fiji, Japan, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Uruguay or the USA. The repercharge will again see Uruguay, if it wins South America´s leg go head-to-head with Asia 2. Africa 2 will face a European side meaning it is indeed identical to that of the 2011 qualification. Namibia will face Madagascar, Morocco and Senegal. The extent of the error can be seen clearly when looking at who Fiji and Japan face in order to qualify - only Tier Three opposition and nobody with any World Cup experience.

Can rugby do better?

Absolutely. So, what is the solution? The IRB should end regional automatic qualification and instead create a Confederation Cup similar to that used in soccer the year before the FIFA World Cup. It would be a tournament involving all non-automatic qualifyers who, after the initial phases of their respective regions qualifying rounds are still in contention for a place at the World Cup. It should be held twenty-four months before the Rugby World Cup. In order to make World Cup´s better and greatly improve the qualifying phase the best thing to do would be have a twenty team Condererations Cup tournament with the Quarter Finalists all automatically advancing to the Rugby World Cup to be the eight qualifying teams who would join the twelve teams already confirmed (Argentina, Australia, England, France,  Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Tonga and Wales).

In addition to being a system based far more on merit than that currently used by the IRB it would have a decreased probability of having a team lose by a scoreline of 142 points like Namibia vs Australia in 2003. As it would be a Confederation Cup it would be based on the best qualifying teams per region. The IRB needs to end its controversial union of North America and South America into the zone called The Americas. Teams from the two continents need not compete against each other. Not only is it a system  not based on merit but it is also not a system that simply does not makes sense. It is akin to having Fiji vs Japan with the winner qualifying as Asia 1 or having Kazakhstan face Romania for a place as Europe 1. Possibly good games but it is intercontinental and therefore a breach of the system that is in place.

Who would compete?

The IRB should look to make the IRB World Rankings as accurate as possible. More matches between teams from different regions is highly important. It would be close to being the sides ranked from 13th to 32nd in the World. To make it a genuine Confederations Cup event it would have teams from each region participate after having qualified based on their performances at the regional level. Going off IRB World Rankings the geographical spread is already apparent. The twenty participants should have the eight non-automatic qualifying countries for the next World Cup involved as well as twelve teams who would qualify via their respective regional, i.e. confederation zones. Looking ahead to 2015 the eight automatic teams would be Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Japan, Namibia, Romania, Russia and the USA.

The twelve remaining spots should be split between the regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and South America. The low ranking of all Oceania teams after Fiji would mean only one team would qualify. What would have been Oceania´s second allocated slot would go to Europe which has a far higher than normal percentage of teams in the top half of the IRB World Rankings. Similarly, North America would forfit one place with South America being the recipient. The other North American spot would go to the winner of a play-off between North America 1 and a repercharge Finalist, i.e the top ranking team who had not been able to qualify for the Confederation Cup. The teams joining the eight above mentioned country´s could therefore be similar or identical to: Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, Uruguay and Zimbabwe.

Where and when would this be played?

Japan would be a great place for a 2013 event and makes perfect sense as the same country will host Rugby World Cup 2019. It could take place in October and November of 2013, with the Finals being played in November when all teams will have full access to all players. They could, in fact, get their players for the entire tournament problem free should the IRB sanction the tournament.

Too bad the IRB have totally messed up the qualification for Rugby World Cup 2015. It seems cutting costs is the policy of the IRB and that having an automatic African participant  via qualification joining South Africa to give the continent two competitors has too many people fooled that it is legitimate.

Australia vs Namibia, Rugby World Cup 2003


  1. Your correct. A Confederation Cup would be a great idea. If it was held Fiji would probably outclass the others. Also it's about time Namibia goes down the drain. World Cups = 4. Games played = 15. Games lost = 15. Its about another asain nation goes to the RWC too. Like Kazakhstan or Hong Kong. My improffments. Qulifacation. AUTOMATIC = By coming 4th or 5th in your pool in the previous RWC. And the top 12 ranked teams in each conference (NORTH + CENTRAL AMERICA) (SOUTH AMERICA) (ASIA) (AFRICA) (ASIA) and (OCEANINA)who did not automatic qualify To compete for the 12 other places. So 4 pools of 3 Top 2 in each pool in Quarter Finals. Grand Finalist's qualify. And the Cup how you said would be perfect.