Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rugby World Cup Qualification: Time to Re-Think Repecharge?

Photo HK Rugby
Nineteen of the twenty participants for Rugby World Cup 2015 have been determined leaving just the winner of repecharge, or the Final Place Play-Off, to be finalized. The final place will be taken by either Uruguay or Russia who are ranked 19th and 20th in the world. The only side outside of the top twenty at the World Cup will be the 22nd ranked Namibia who qualified directly as Africa 1. In theory Namibia should not be there ahead of either side and questions remain unanswered as to why the system remains in place despite African qualifiers being winless in every World Cup. As in prior qualifying processes runners-up from Africa and Asia again fell short against teams from Europe and the Americas. With a history demonstrating similarities it may be time to re-think repecharge.

2015 - Russia will play host to Uruguay on September 27 with the South Americans hosting the reverse fixture on October 11. The winner of the two match series on aggregate will be confirmed as the twentieth and final participant at Rugby World Cup 2015. The winner of repecharge will, in other words, again not be from either Asia or Africa as has been the case since repecharge was introduced to the qualifying process ahead of the 1999 tournament.

Uruguay is in the Final Place Play-Off despite being ranked in the world's top twenty and having gone through the South American regional qualification phase without losing a match. Unlike all other IRB regions the South American winner does not qualify directly for the Rugby World Cup. Instead it plays a home and away series against the runner-up of North American qualifying. 

Uruguay therefore faced the USA home and away and pushed the North Americans in the first match which was a 27-27 draw but was over powered in Atlanta with the Eagles completing a 32-13 victory. In facing the USA Uruguay was also playing against an official Tier Two member. Asian runner-up Hong Kong did so against Japan as did Europe's third placed side Russia against Georgia and Romania. Namibia, in contrast qualified after playing exclusively against Tier Three nations.

Namibia qualified directly despite losing against Madagascar in 2012 and Kenya in 2014. Neither country has qualified for a Rugby World Cup but also competing in the 2014 Africa Cup which saw Namibia qualify was Zimbabwe, participants in the first two Rugby World Cups. Zimbabwe finished second ahead of Kenya who also won two out of three matches. Zimbabwe was consequently confirmed as Africa 2 and secured a repcharge Semi Final against Russia. 

Meeting Uruguay in the second Semi Final was Asia 2 Hong Kong who had beaten all but Japan in the 2014 Asian Five Nations. As the higher ranked sides Russia and Uruguay were given home advantage in the one-off Semi Finals and they both won with Russia being challenged but triumphing 23-15 while an impressive second half saw Uruguay win 28-3 against Hong Kong. 

Although the format used for determing repecharge qualifiers has been different in earlier Rugby World Cups the teams that have finished European and American qualification as the top ranked teams without direct qualification have been the sides to secure qualification via intercontinental play-offs. The IRB therefore must address the qualification model to conclude whether or not a fairer system can be established. 

Previous qualification models have varied but have nonetheless all seen Africa and Asia lacking the ability to get past the likes of Portugal, Romania, Russia, Tonga and Uruguay. Is it time to re-think repecharge? Could a new system be put in place ahead of the qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2019? As seen in previous World Cups the qualification process has changed regularly and therefore future alterations are entirely plausible. 

2011 - Policies changes by the Federatia Romana de Rugby (FRR) after Rugby World Cup 2007 saw the union limiting opportunities to those who were playing their rugby at home. Those based abroad were therefore excluded from international duty and the consequence was very nearly disastrous as Romania lost at home against Russia and Portugal in 2009. 

A depleted Romania meant Russia collected more competition points and finshed second, behind Georgia, to qualify directly for Rugby World Cup 2011. Romania recovered to finish in third position with six victories from ten matches, just one more than that of Portugal. The turn-arounnd which enabled Romania to qualify was due to the union enabling foreign based players to play for the test team again and after defeating Ukraine home and away Romania entered repecharge. 

Like in 2015 the repecharge process featured runners-up from Africa and Asia in addition to the third placed sides from Europe and the Americas. The higher ranked sides from Europe and the Americas hosted the matches with there being no return fixtures. Consequently Romania hosted Tunisia (Africa 2) and Uruguay took on Kazakhstan (Asia 2). The 56-13 and 44-7 results saw Romania and Uruguay advance to the Final Place Play-Off which Romania won on aggregate after the teams competed to a 21-21 draw in the opening match in Montevideo.

2007 - Rugby World Cup 2007 featured a different format with there being two places for repecharge qualifiers. Named Repecharge 1 and 2 they were divided in a differing manner which saw the winner of Africa 2 v Europe 3 advance to face Americas 4 in the final. With Argentina having to qualify Uruguay was Americas 4 rather than 3 while Tonga qualified as repecharge 2 with an 85-3 win over South Korea. 

The repecharge 1 final was Portugal v Uruguay after the Europeans defeated the North Africans by scorelines of 10-5 and 16-15. Portugal then secure a maiden appearance and a Rugby World Cup with a victory by one point, on aggregate over Los Teros. Having won 12-5 in Lisbon Uruguay recovered to win 18-12 but paid the price for having second-rower Juan Bado red-carded early in the match.

2003 - Like in qualification for Rugby World Cup 2007 there were two repecharge slots an the format was identical. A west-east split saw the Americas, Africa and Europe having one team each vying for the right to qualify as repecharge 1 while one country from each of Asia and Oceania contested repecharge 2.

With Uruguay having impressed in the qualification phase it qualified directly, along with Canada, as one of the two regional qualifying joining automatic qualifiers Argentina in the World Cup. The USA was therefore Americas 4 and faced 1999 qualifiers Spain home and away after the Spanish had eliminated Tunisia with a 33-16 victory. The USA powered to a 62-13 win in Madrid and then won the return fixture 58-13 to qualify for Australia 2003. Tonga secured repecharge 2 with 75-0 and 119-0 victories over South Korea.

1999 - With the tournament expanded to twenty teams for Rugby World Cup 1999 the IRB introduced repecharge for the first time. A total of seven countries participated with Tonga, Georgia, Holland and South Korea disputing the right to qualify as repecharge 1 and Uruguay, Portugal and Morocco competing to determine repecharge 2. 

Tonga faced Georgia home and away and, despite losing 28-27 in Tbilisi, advanced to the final to face South Korea who lost 31-30 in Amsterdam but ran out to a 78-14 thrashing in Seoul. Tonga won the two matches by scorelines of 58-26 and 82-15 to qualify for Wales 1999. 

Organizers had given Africa 2 a bye in the opening round which meant Uruguay v Portugal was elimination. The South Americans won the matches 46-9 and 33-24 to earn the right to face Morocco in the repecharge 2 final. Los Teros won 18-3 in Montevideo but lost 21-18 in Casablanca. It meant South America had two teams for the first time in a World Cup, the same number as Africa. 

1995 - The debut of South Africa in a World Cup combined with it being played in Africa saw the continent have two places which meant cuts were made elsewhere. There were seven places on the line in regional qualifiers with the nine remaining slots going to the host nation and the Quarter Finalists from Rugby World Cup 1991. 

Europe was allocated three slots while Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania had one each. Qualifying from Europe were Italy, Romania and Wales while Japan, the Cote d´Ivoire, Argentina and Tonga did so through their respective regions. With there being no place for either Fiji or the USA the expansion to twenty teams for 1999 was only natural. 

1991 - The second Rugby World Cup was the first to feature a qualifying process. Participation in Rugby World Cup 1987 was invitational which, curiously, saw there being no place for Samoa which was considered not being of the required standard. Samoa illustrated the error by eliminating Wales in the group stage of Rugby World Cup 1991 and advanced to the Quarter Finals. 

Samoa did not qualify as Oceania 1 because it, alongside Tonga, played in a regional series with Japan and South Korea termed Asia and Oceania Qualification. Fiji, as 1987 Quarter Finalists, qualified directly. Samoa won all of its matches while Japan won all expect that against the Samoans. The Asia and Oceania region was allocated two slots the same as Europe while the Americas had three and Africa one.

Zimbabwe won African qualification as the only undefeated side from the continent. Italy and Romania joined the five members of the old Five Nations to give Europe seven participants while Canada topped Americas qualification and was joined by Argentina and the USA at the World Cup. 

1 comment:

  1. The solution is to expand the IRB Rugby World Cup to 24 teams. The four extra sport would be given to Europe 3, Asia 2, South America 1 and a second repechage spot.

    The 24 teams would play in six groups of four. To eliminate matches between tier 1 and tier 3 matches, teams would be split in Cup and Plate groups, with 12 teams each.

    The top 8 teams in Cup groups would play Cup quarter-finals. In addition, the remaining four Cup groups and the top 4 teams in Plate grouds would play Plate quarter-finals.

    The schedule would have 50 matches (if 3rd place matches are removed), and ther would be no bye weeks.