Early draw hurts 2023 Rugby World Cup

A World Cup draw should not be conducted three years before the tournament, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

The draw for the 2023 Rugby World Cup was made on 14 December 2020 in Paris, exactly 1,000 days before the opening match of the tournament between hosts France and the All Blacks on 8 September 2023.

The 12 automatic qualifiers were seeded based on their World Rugby ranking from 1 January 2020, which grouped the Springboks, All Blacks, England and Wales in band one; Ireland, Australia, France and Japan in band two; and Scotland, Argentina, Fiji and Italy in band three.

The folly of having the draw almost three years before the tournament – based on rankings from 11 months earlier – was glaringly exposed after the draw and the 2022 Six Nations.

On 1 January 2020, the top-four ranked teams were the Springboks, All Blacks, England and Wales (the 2019 World Cup semi-finalists). By 14 December 2020, Wales had plummeted from fourth to ninth with France climbing from seventh to fourth.

By 21 March 2022, the top-four ranked teams were the Springboks, newly crowned Six Nations champions France, the All Blacks and Ireland. All four of those teams will be in the same half of the draw at the 2023 World Cup, which means two of them will not progress past the quarter-finals, while lower-ranked teams in the other half of the draw, like ninth-placed Wales, could.

World Rugby has never explained why the draw has to be done in the first year of a World Cup cycle, but it presumably helps the organisers to have the fixtures confirmed then and enables tickets to go on sale early. However, this comes at the cost of the tournament’s integrity.

The whole point of using a seeding system for a tournament is to provide a pathway for the top-four ranked teams to get to the semi-finals and for the top two to contest the final. Obviously, results often don’t go according to seedings, but at least you avoid a situation where the best two teams meet in the quarter-finals, while a clearly inferior team in the other half of the draw gets an easy ride to the final.

World Rugby can learn from Fifa when it comes to World Cup draws.

The draw for the 2022 Fifa World Cup will only be made on 1 April 2022 in Doha, 235 days before the opening match on 21 November. Yet, that is enough time for the organisers of the world’s biggest sports tournament to get things done, and for fans to buy tickets and make their travel plans for Qatar.

World Rugby could have conducted the draw for the 2023 World Cup in December last year after the November Tests. Yes, some teams’ form may still have fluctuated between then and the start of the World Cup nine months later, but far less so than over a three-year period.

Hopefully, World Rugby will realise it got the timing of the 2023 draw horribly wrong and will ensure there’s no repeat for the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

2023 Rugby World Cup pools

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Simon Borchardt