• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

The Rugby World Cup draw: fair or farce?

BySam Lewis

Oct 26, 2023
Stade de France hosting rugby

Recently, we were lucky enough to witness two of the all-time greatest Rugby World Cup (RWC) fixtures. On Saturday, the world number one, Ireland, faced off against New Zealand (who need no introduction); on Sunday, the hosts, France, came up against the champions, South Africa. Both games were nerve-shredding thrillers that came down to a single score.

Having been treated in such spectacular fashion, you would be forgiven for assuming all would be right with the rugby world, and no one could have any real gripes. That assumption, however, would be incorrect, as the prickly subject of the draw reared its head.

For those who aren’t aware, the RWC draws its teams into pools based on the rankings of the teams. The best teams are separated, so they should meet in the latest rounds of the tournament. The issue with this is that the draw took place on December 14, 2020.

The top four nations at that date were (1) South Africa, (2) New Zealand, (3) England, and (4) Wales, with each receiving their own group. Next, (5) Ireland, (6) Australia, (7) France, and (8) Japan followed up as the second seeds in their respective groups. (9) Scotland, (10) Argentina, (11) Fiji, and (12) Italy rounding out the top twelve.

However, move three years forward, and these rankings have shifted radically. Pool B, containing Ireland, South Africa, and Scotland, had three of the top five teams in the world competing for two knockout spots. Pool A, with France and New Zealand, had the other two of that group. Meanwhile, Fiji was the ‘best’ team in their group, over Wales and Australia. While Argentina had the highest ranking in Pool D. 

As a result, only four of the top five could make the knockouts. This situation worsened, with unfortunate draws seeing France play against South Africa and Ireland play against New Zealand. With England playing Fiji and Wales facing off against Argentina. This has meant Argentina and England, two massively weaker teams, have progressed further than the two current powerhouses of the Northern Hemisphere.

There is therefore a question about whether the current draw system needs to be reworked, as it has deprived us of seeing the best teams in the world compete in the semi-finals and final of this Rugby World Cup. On the other hand, however, I wonder if this should really bother us? 

This is not the first ‘group of death’ seen in the history of the RWC. Eight years ago, England were knocked out early in their home World Cup after playing two difficult fixtures. Furthermore, rigid draws prevent the progression of underdog stories, one of the best narratives in sports. These draws allow unfavourable teams to build up momentum, making upsets more likely. For that reason, I would either keep the draws as they are or find a better way to distribute groups. Ultimately, though, this shouldn’t detract from the brilliance of the matches played and those to come.

Stade de France, Finale Top 14” by FrançoisFromFrance is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.