Monday, March 18, 2013

Doom Scenario - What was the IRB thinking?

At the time of making the draw for Rugby World Cup 2015 the governing body of the sport, the IRB, did not make it known but it is safe to assume that behind the scenes there were some very concerned people. Wales had lost seven matches in a row to fall outside of the top eight nations in the IRB World Rankings. One side that had defeated Wales was Samoa and the Pacific Island nation recieved a much friendlier draw than that of Wales. The tournament organizers and Rugby World Cup Ltd had made it no secret that although it was England´s Rugby World Cup there would be matches subhosted in Wales as the Millennium Stadium was deemed to be a needed venue. Its selection has been complicated by the draw for Rugby World Cup 2015 as Wales will play against England.  

The IRB World Rankings are updated every Monday at 12:00 GMT. The updated version to take place later on today will see some changes to the rankings from last week. Ireland are set to fall by virtue of losing against Italy in Rome on Saturday but not all losing teams will take a hit. England will remain in fourth place despite having been hammered by Wales. The 27 point loss is not enough to see either nation change position. Both sides, nevertheless hold on to strong rankings and positions with England ranked fourth and Wales fifth in the World. Their position in the rankings makes a farce of the draw for Rugby World Cup 2015 which was, quite simply, made far too early. They join Australia in Pool A to give the group three of the world´s five top ranked nations at this point in time. How did this happen? They were ranked in three of the five different bands at the start of December. Australia was in the top band, England the second band and Wales the third. They were drawn together and, as unfair, as it might be it has been done and is confirmed. 

It could perhaps best be described as the doom scenario. The whole purpose of using the IRB World Rankings to determine places for World Cup´s is to ensure an even distribution of teams based on their ability. But due to having the draw done so far before the World Cup there is a real risk of short term ranking positions being used to seed teams in an unequal manner. This is precisely what happened in the case of Pool A. After having lost too many matches Wales was ranked 9th, a position that it quickly improved on in 2013 to now sit in fifth position, comfortably in band two. If the draw were to be made today then it would be impossible for Australia, England and Wales to all be drawn together. 

Pool A is not only group with three genuine title contenders but is also one with a fourth that could very well be a Quarter Finals contender. The band four team in the pool will be Fiji due to no other Oceanian side being anywhere near as good as the Fijians. Samoa and Tonga already qualified due to both teams finishing third in their pools in 2011. Samoa will play in Pool B in a very generous pool that featuring title contenders South Africa and Quarter Finals contenders Scotland. Tonga will have a tougher task by playing against New Zealand and Argentina while the other band three nation, Italy will need to defeat either France or Ireland and win its two other matches to reach the Quarter Finals. 

Hopefully the IRB have taken notice and the make up of the pools for Rugby World Cup 2019 will not be made in December 2016 but rather in December 2017 or, preferably, in December 2018. While it may indeed simplify the task of promoting and selling packages for visitors it ultimately increased the chances of having a draw which is not based on the realistic abilities of the twenty teams playing in the World Cup. It is known that the top European qualifier will play in Pool C and the runner up in Pool D. But it is not known who these teams will be. Currently it appears that Georgia will be Europe 1 and Romania Europe 2. They are tied for the lead of the European Nations Championship (ENC) midway through the qualification process. Georgia has played in Romania but is yet to host its Black Sea rivals. The winner will be known in twelve months time, or, in other words, fifteen months after the World Cup draw was made. Should Georgia qualify it will be done in March 2014, why then stage the draw so far in advance?

Rugby World Cup 2015 Draw 

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