It’s hard to believe but qualifying for the 2015 Rugby World Cup has already begun. Huge crowds turned out in Madagascar to watch the first rounds of qualifying in Africa, where the host earned a surprise victory over Namibia, who have made five straight World Cups. Namibia’s loss does not mean that they are out of the World Cup but it does signal that getting to the World Cup isn’t something automatic for traditional teams.
Qualifying is exciting. Because there is so much on the line it brings out the best in players and in fans. That is why it is so strange that the IRB doesn’t make the top teams in the world go through qualifying every four years. Sure, New Zealand, Australia, France, South Africa, etc, are going to qualify, but that is missing the point.
Note: The top 3 in each pool (12 total) at the previous World Cup qualify for the next World Cup. Those qualifying for the next World Cup include: New Zealand, France, Tonga, England, Argentina, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Italy, South Africa, Wales, Samoa.
Sports love David vs. Goliath stories. After all, that is one of the things that makes the World Cup so exciting in the first place. Tonga’s victory over France, who went on the final, was one of the highlights of the World Cup. So was Georgia holding Scotland close, or the U.S giving Ireland and Italy tough matches. Realistically, the first rounds of the World Cup don’t have much excitement to them other than these matches. So why aren’t these replicated in qualifying?
Imagine a circumstance where the Six Nations had more on the line that just a title, what if they came with the prospect of earning a spot in the World Cup? For example, winning the Six Nations gets you a top seed in the World Cup while finishing last gets you placed in a European playoff with the likes of Romania, Georgia, Russia, Spain, and Portugal. The team would most likely still advance, but it would make the tournament more exciting. How much better would a Scotland-Italy matchup on the last day of the Six Nations be if both teams knew that whoever lost wouldn’t qualify for the World Cup?
The same goes for Oceania where a matchup between New Zealand and Fiji would draw interest from around the world. The prospect of an upset is enough to draw viewers from anywhere. Think about the U.S. or Canada potentially knocking off Argentina?
Everyone would gain if all teams had to go through qualifying. First, it would bring in more revenue to individual countries and the IRB. Look at the television contracts teams in the soccer world get just for qualifying. It’s an enormous amount of money. Rugby may not be able to attract money on the same scale, but it would be better than the nothing they are getting right now.
Qualifying would also help the coffers of all nations. Tier I nations would get additional home matches in which they most likely wouldn’t even have to put out a full-strength squad. Tier II nations would get the luxury of hosting a Tier I nation in a meaningful match. Additionally, the idea that winning an earlier match would earn the right to host that Tier I nation would make those earlier matches more intriguing. Suddenly Uruguay-Canada is no longer a snoozer if the winner knows they get a chance at Argentina in a match that counts. Overall it’s a win for everyone involved.
What do you think? Should Tier I nations have to go through qualifying? Would it raise revenue?
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