I have a strange interest in following minnow nations in a number of sports including rugby union. I thought I’d put this to good use by doing a write up of the qualification situation for the 2013 Rugby World Cup.
The number in brackets is each teams world ranking as of 31/12/2013.
Teams remaining: United States (18), Uruguay (20). Canada has already qualified for Rugby World Cup.
Format: Two legged playoff. The winner (to be decided by aggregate) will qualify for group B with South Africa, Scotland, Samoa and the Asian qualifier (most likely Japan) while the loser will have to try their chances in the repechage play off in late 2014.
Date: Uruguay host USA on 2second March in Montevideo. The USA host the return leg the following weekend in Georgia.
Prediction: The USA has a higher world ranking and have the home advantage in the final leg meaning they are favourites to advance to the world cup.
Teams remaining: Fiji (11), Cook Islands (46)
Date decided: June 28th
Format: One off match in Suva. Winner to proceed to ‘group of death’ with Australia, Wales, England and the winner of the Repechage. Loser is eliminated.
Prediction: It is impossible to see Cook Islands getting close to Fiji. These two countries have met once before – in 1997 Fiji won 53-7 and it is hard to see it being much different this time around.
Teams remaining: Namibia (23), Zimbabwe (30), Kenya (34), Madagascar (36)
Format: The African cup is a round robin tournament over nine days, all matches in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
The winner of the African Cup will join New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and a European qualifier in Pool C. The runner up will advance to the repechage playoffs. Teams that finish third and fourth are eliminated.
Date: The African Cup kicks off on June 28th and the winner is crowned on fifth July.
Prediction: This is shaping up to be an intriguing qualification tournament.
Namibia have been the African qualifier for three world cups in a row and until two years ago would have been favourites to make it four But a decline in form saw them drop a division for the African Cup after losing to Madagascar in 2012.
They were moved back into top division after 2013 and did have a 55-35 win over Kenya this year.
Kenya were winners of the African Cup in 2011 and 2013 which suggests they may be ready for their first berth at the Rugby World Cup while Zimbabwe won in 2012 and finished runner up in 2013 to put them in their strongest position since they last qualified in 1991.
Madagascar look to be the weakest link in the group. But given their world ranking has jumped 20 places in two years and 40,000 fans saw them defeat Namibia just 18 months ago, one would be a fool to write them off completely. On top of this they will have the home ground advantage for this tournament.
Kenya to qualify, Namibia to Repechage
Teams remaining: Japan (14), South Korea (24), Hong Kong (25), Sri Lanka (40), Philippines (57)
Format: Asian five nations used as a qualifying tournament. This is a home and away round robin tournament. The winner of this event will join Pool B with the American qualifier, Samoa, Scotland and South Africa. The runner up will go to repechage.
Date: The dates for this tournament are yet to be confirmed but it is usually held in late April/early May.
Prediction: Japan are a country mile ahead of anyone else in Asia and will be expected to cruise through the tournament comfortably.
The battle for second will most likely be the winner out of Hong Kong and South Korea as both are much stronger rugby nations than Sri Lanka or Philippines.
Japan to qualify, South Korea to repechage
Teams remaining: Georgia (16), Romania (17), Russia (19), Spain (21), Portugal (22) Belgium (27). Netherlands (31) can still qualify but only through repechage
Format: European Nations Cup (second tier of six nations). This is a home and away round robin tournament. The winner of the ENC, will qualify for Pool C alongside New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and the African qualifier. The runner up will qualify for Pool D alongside France, Ireland, Italy and Canada.
This is a strange format as one could argue that the first qualifier gets a harder draw than the second qualifier. The country who finishes third will play a sudden death match against Netherlands to decide who gets the right to go to repechage.
Date: Round 1 of the ENC commences on February first while the final round concludes on 15th March.
Prediction: Like Africa, this is a very intriguing qualification scenario as all teams are ranked relatively close together. One would expect Georgia and Romania to both go through comfortably given their success in qualifying for past Rugby World Cups but any slip up, especially against Russia could see them lose their spot.
Portugal, Russia and Spain have each only qualified for one world cup while Belgium has never made it to Rugby’s biggest stage. Who out of these four teams would qualify for the repechage playoff would be very much guesswork. Regardless of who makes the repechage playoff, it is hard to see them losing to the Netherlands.
Qualifier 1 Georgia
Qualifier 2 Romania
Repechage Qualifier: Spain
The repechage sees the African and European qualifiers meet each other while the qualifiers from American and Asia will also meet. The countries who have a higher IRB ranking get the home ground advantage.
Assuming my predictions are correct and rankings do not change between now and then, this will mean South Korea and Uruguay would meet each other in Montevideo while Namibia and Spain would meet in Madrid. The winners of these two matches would then play in a two legged play off for the final spot in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The winner of the repechage will compete in Pool A alongside Australia, Wales, England and the Oceania qualifier (almost certainly Fiji)
Prediction: Uruguay to defeat Namibia in the final of repechage.