The qualification format for the 2011 Rugby World Cup has been announced and it is a stinker!
In 1995, the finalists and the winner of the 3rd place play-off match went through by right to the 1999 competition, along with the hosts, Wales. Because England lost the play-off (to France), four years of whingeing and moaning culminated in the format being changed to give all the quarter-finalists an automatic entry to the 2003 World Cup.
The predictable result of such protectionism has been to exacerbate the gap between the top teams and the rest. (Effectively, a mediocre team like Scotland could qualify indefinitely for future World Cup finals simply by winning one match in the group stage each time and getting lucky with the other results.)
To “solve” this problem it has been decided to restrict EVEN MORE the playing opportunities of the emerging teams. Out of 16 teams in the 2011 World Cup (if lobbying to cut the number of teams is successful from the current 20), 12 would be automatic entries. So for a new coach in Africa who is aiming to raise the standard and get his team, what incentive can he offer the players? NONE.
Already, a country like the Cook Islands had to play a ridiculous number of matches to even get close to a Repechage place. Judging by the performances of the Cook Islands, I suspect they would have stood a slim chance in a top-two qualifies group in Oceania, with three groups and the top teams seeded. But under the new proposals, there are about 120 teams chasing perhaps only four slots. This is ridiculous.
Letting decrepit has-been teams like Scotland and Wales qualify by birthright while Uruguay, Tonga and China have to play qualifiers is so wrong it seems outrageous to even have to point it out.
Instead of just whingeing about it, I’ve written up a proposal on how to organize a Rugby World Cup. Fat chance any of it will be done though!