Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Should Russia join Asia?

Russia faces a tough challenge of reaching RWC 2015 due to geography
In just over two months time a lot of attention from global rugby followers will be asking a question that comes about every four years - are European nations disadvantaged in the Rugby World Cup qualification process

The top two European sides from the 2013-2014 European Nations Cup will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 while the third placed side will enter repercharge and the remaining teams will all be eliminated. This is the case despite the top African qualifier gaining direct qualification and the likely side being ranked behind five European sides vowing for the two qualification places. 

The rankings for 2013 closed with Namibia ranked 23rd in the world. The same African country has qualified as Africa 1 for every Rugby World Cup in the professional era but holds a record of 0:15. Not only has Namibia lost all fifteen of its World Cup matches but it has also endured the biggest defeat in World Cup history and has been unable to seriously challenge any side. 

Part of the problem has been based on unfortunate luck with Namibia having endured difficult draws while the authorities have also complicated matters by asking Namibia to play all its pool matches in a reduced period compared to Tier One Nations. Indeed so controversial was Namibia´s fixture list for Rugby World Cup 2011 that Namibia was the first team to have played all four matches and did so a staggering six days before opposition teams Fiji and Wales completed their matches. 

Two sides that have enjoyed comfortable victories over Namibia at World Cups are Romania and Georgia. Romania defeated Namibia 37-7 in 2003 while Georgia won 30-0 four years later. Ranked ahead of Namibia at the close of 2013 were not only Romania and Georgia but also Russia, Portugal and Spain. Two of them have no chance of qualifying for England and Wales 2015 while the third will have to get passed Africa 2 then the winner of Americas 3 v Asia 2. Americas 3 will be either Uruguay or the USA, both of whom are ranked above Namibia. 

While the Russian capital is a European city much of the country is located in Asia. In rough terms 40% of the country is located in Europe and 60% is located in Asia. In other words there is a case to be made that Russia ought to leave European rugby (FIRA) and join Asian rugby (ARFU) to compete in the Asian Five Nations, a tournament in which Japan has dominated in its six year existence. Competing against Japan in the 2014 competition are Hong Kong, the Philippines, South Korea and Sri Lanka. 

With the winner advancing to Rugby World Cup 2015 directly and the runner-up entering repercharge it is an easier format for those involved that the ENC. For 2019 it will be different due to the reason that Japan will be pre-qualified as the host nation. Put differently, unless policies change, there will be a second Asian side guaranteed a place at Rugby World Cup 2019. Russia would be wise to look east and join Asia in time for the qualification phase for Rugby World Cup 2019. 

Not only would Russia stand a significantly greater chance of qualifying but it could also enhance the Siberian rugby market and possibly play test rugby there depending on dates. This would also mean that the ENC would be fairer in terms of Rugby World Cup qualification as previous World Cup sides Portugal and Spain would have an enhanced opportunity of qualifying for a second Rugby World Cup. 

In rugby there are many instances of teams playing in a different continental zone than where they physically belong. Israel, for instance, plays in FIRA while Guyana plays in NACRA. It is also replicated in other sports with Australian soccer being such an instance. Australia´s move from Oceania to Asia in soccer has seen the country have a far easier route to the World Cup and it enabled the team to qualify easily for 2010 and 2014. 

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