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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fixing The World Cup Scheduling Problem

Millions of rugby fans eagerly tuned in this morning to see if Japan could repeat their form against Australia and upset Scotland. For a half it looked like another upset could be in the making before Japan showed visible fatigue in the second half allowing a fresh Scotland team to pull away. Adding to the difficult for Japan was the injury to Number 8 Amanaki Mafi. It was clear that the three day turnaround eroded any chance Japan had the upset and possible cost them one of their best players.

Many around the globe have pointed to the tournament schedule that many argue favors Tier I nations. That's probably the case although this year World Rugby officials have made it relatively more even for teams. It's always going to be difficult to accommodate a team like Japan who feel like they have a shot in every match. However, there is a solution out there and it's expanding the field of the World Cup.

Take the jump to read more.
We've written before about the potential benefits of expanding the World Cup. As we've noted it would get more countries involved in the tournament and would provide a stronger platform for upsets. If the tournament were expanded to six groups of four and expanded to feature a round of 16 you could see teams like Japan, the United States, or Canada potentially make the round of 16 while making it safe for the Tier I nations to advance.

In terms of scheduling, reducing each pool from five teams to four would allow the tournament pool play to be played over a three week time like it is now with each team getting pretty much a full week between matches. Matches could then be staggered keeping the attention on the tournament throughout the duration. It wouldn't be ideal but it's better than the situation we have now.

Economically it would be a boost because the tournament would now go from 48 matches to 52. It would also add the quarterfinals and knock out play always means more interest and more TV revenue. Imagine the excitement that would happen in the United States if suddenly they were in the knockout rounds of the World Cup. It's made for drama as an upset against a top team could put them in a place they have never been before.

Sure, there would be blowouts but there were very lopsided scores 20 years ago and teams caught up. Expanding the field to include the likes of Brazil and Germany would lead to lopsided scores if they played New Zealand but eventually they would get better and global rugby would be stronger as a result. Plus, for most people in New Zealand it doesn't really matter if they beat Brazil or the United States in pool play as long as they beat the other favorites later in the tournament.

Here's how it would work. Based on the World Rugby rankings a year before the World Cup and ignoring regional qualification the top 24 teams, not based on a random draw but ranking, would be placed in the following pools:

Pool A: New Zealand (1), France (7), United States (18), Hong Kong (24)
Pool B: South Africa (2), Scotland (8), Canada (17), Portugal (23)
Pool C: Australia (3),  Samoa (9), Romania (16), Namibia (22)
Pool D: England (4), Japan (10), Georgia (15), Spain (21)
Pool E: Ireland (5), Fiji (11), Italy (14), Russia (20)
Pool F: Wales (6), Argentina (12), Tonga (13), Uruguay (19)

Based on this scenario with the top two teams advancing from each pool with the four best third place teams you still have the heavy hitters making it through but leave room for the likes of Fiji, Canada, the U.S., Georgia, and Tonga to make it through.

As this World Cup progresses it's getting more and more clear that World Rugby can no longer be complacent. Yes Japan delivered a big upset but those types of upsets are unlikely to continue with the way the tournament is structured. They should learn from the excitement of that upset and understand if they can manufacture the tournament to produce more upsets and to keep more teams involved longer then they are only going to see the sport take off globally.

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