The World Rugby rankings are a fascinating viewing. Gone are the days of the All Blacks scoffing at the enormous gap between themselves and the rest. After the Autumn Nations series, there are noteworthy shifts in rugby’s pecking order. It reveals that ideally, World Cup draws should be done much closer to the tournament start date.
The World Rugby Rankings show problems with World Cup draw
Four Top Contenders
Ireland and France have just over 90 world ranking points, with New Zealand and South Africa on 88. There is a significant drop afterward, as England sits in fifth place with under 84 ranking points. The Autumn Nations series tells a similar story, with South Africa’s games against Ireland and France being as close as can be.
This is a potential sign that doing a World Cup draw so far out from the tournament is problematic. These four sides should each be the top seed in their group and favourites to collide in the semi-finals. Instead, if results go as predicted, they will meet in the quarter-finals. Two of Ireland, France, New Zealand, and South Africa won’t reach the last four.
Rises and Falls in World Rugby Rankings
Wales enter the Rugby World Cup as the top seeds of their Pool, after reaching the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup. But after a disastrous Autumn Nations series, they have currently nosedived into ninth in the rankings. They would have a much tougher time getting to the quarter-finals had the draw been done today- as they would be the third seed in their pool.
Conversely, some sides are rewarded in the rankings for their progress this year. Argentina currently sits in eighth after wins against England, New Zealand, and Australia. With current rankings, the South Americans would be seeded second in their Pool. Georgia’s victory over Wales means they currently have 75.19 ranking points. With Italy fractionally higher with 75.95, the debate about promotion/relegation in the 6 Nations will no doubt continue.
World Cup draws must happen later
World Rugby shouldn’t be heavily criticised for this draw in particular. The decision to base seeding off 2019 rankings was primarily because of disruption caused by the pandemic, which they had no control over. But even for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the draw was done all the way back in 2017.
For future World Cups, why don’t we do the draw at the end of the previous calendar year or one year out? For this year’s football World Cup, the draw took place in April of this year, so 12 months is certainly possible. It would offer the best chance to ensure that the best teams go as far in the tournament as possible. Plus it would add extra consequences to international friendlies, with the World Rugby rankings mattering more. Imagine a fixture between Argentina and Wales, with the winner likely to get the second seed in their pool rather than the third seed.
As an example of what the pools could have looked like had the rankings been done now, take a look at the groups below:
Pool A: Ireland, Australia, Wales, Tonga, Namibia
Pool B: France, England, Samoa, Uruguay, Chile
Pool C: South Africa, Scotland, Japan, Georgia, Romania
Pool D: New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, Fiji, Portugal
Sure, Pool A still creates a Pool of Death where a top team gets eliminated at the group stage. However, it would mean that theoretically, you get the blockbuster semi-finals of the four greatest teams. Rugby’s current balance of power is far different from 2019. Perhaps the current rankings will teach us lessons for future World Cups.
The 2023 Rugby World Cup will start on September 8, 2023. In that tournament, South Africa, nicknamed the Springboks, is the defending champions as they look to repeat as champions next year.
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