What if the draw for the World Cup was carried out more like the football equivalent, rather than 2-3 years in advance? It’s a debate that’s gone on for a while.
In the 2003 version, South Africa were annoyed that they were paired with the number 1 ranked team in the world, England. When the draw was made over 2 years prior, the Springboks were flying and England were looking for an identity. By the time the WC started, England were ranked number 1 in the world and South Africa were 4th. They had a right to feel they should’ve avoided another of the “big 4”.
The pool match in Perth, which England won, consigned the Springboks to a quarter-final against the 2nd ranked All Blacks, and that didn’t end well, and didn’t help resolve their annoyance!
Had the draw been made closer to the tournament, it could all have been different.
The IRB, or World Rugby as they are now known, have always been insistent on the early draw. They claim that with the distances fans have to travel, knowing where your side will be playing early on allows more time to plan. This is clearly a bit of bluster, as the logistics of travelling to matches in venues across small countries like England and New Zealand don’t require a 3 year travel plan. I’ll admit I booked some of my hotels about 11 months in advance, but I didn’t have to!
For the 2011 World Cup, the pools were drawn in March 2009 based on world rankings on December 1, 2008.
This World Cup was drawn on December 3, 2012 based on the rankings from 2 days prior.
As has been well documented, Wales dropped out of the Top 8 after a final defeat in the 2012 Autumn Internationals and led to the “Group of Death”. In fact, not only was it the final match, but Kurtley Beale scored with almost the last move of the match to consign Wales to a run of 7 defeats and a Tier 3 ranking.
In Pool A, Australia, England and Fiji (now up to 9th in the rankings) remain together but crucially Wales’ move up the rankings moves them elsewhere. It’s been assumed the lower tier sides remain similar unless there has been a significant change. For example, Italy are ranked below Georgia at present but as a 6N team they’re here as “next best” as Fiji were when the draw was made.
A different line up for the top 2, but, amazingly, it’s just a switch of Pool for Ireland and France, whilst Samoa drop down to the third tier. The US have overtaken Canada in the rankings and have been swapped here.
So far, not so different.
If you think Pool A and B were interesting, there’s a good chance Pool C would be identical, with really only the Georgia v Italy argument for the 6th best European side. World Rugby’s rankings might say Georgia, but I still think Italy would have the edge on the pitch!
Only really Pool D sees any major changes and it’s caused by Wales resurgence. Although Scotland still end up with South Africa, they now have Wales rather than Samoa sandwiched inbetween.
The biggest winners from a re-draw? Undoubtedly England, Wales and Australia who all have a greater chance of a QF berth with all three much more likely to make the last 8 in the new draw. On the downside, Wales could end up in a QF with the All Blacks in the new version! Swings and roundabouts!
The biggest losers? Probably Samoa, who’ve gone from 2nd seeds in Pool B to barely clinging onto the 3rd seeding in the same group. A victory over Scotland in a few weeks should see Samoa reach the QF, but the re-draw would require a win against the French or Irish, both much tougher opponents.
Clearly this is an irrelevance, but it’s interesting how little the rankings really move. Is the re-draw fairer than the original? Who knows, but I’m sure one of the English, Welsh or Aussie fans will be agreeing with my re-draw come the 11th October!