RWC 2015 qualifying: The story so far

(RUGBY WORLD CUP) Sunday 2 December 2012
 
RWC 2015 qualifying: The story so far
Brazil's dream of a place at RWC 2015 remains alive after they beat Paraguay in the latest stage of the Americas qualification process in October

The road to Rugby World Cup 2015 began in Mexico City back in March, when the host nation beat Jamaica 68-14 in the first of 184 qualifiers. Since then a total of 72 matches have been played as nations compete to claim one of the eight qualification places available at England 2015.

On the eve of the Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool Allocation Draw in London, we take a look at what has already happened in this qualification process around the globe.

EUROPE

Click here for diagram explaining the qualification process >>

With 38 IRB Full Member Unions and well over 50 per cent of the Game’s playing population, Europe is by some distance the largest region.

Fixtures are already well underway in Division 2B, where the top-ranked team will play the winner of the Division 2C v 2D clash in Round 2 on 18 May. Newly-promoted Israel currently top the standings after winning their opening matches against Serbia and Andorra. They complete their fixtures with two homes games in April against Latvia and Denmark.

The Netherlands are looking in good shape to play in the Round 3 play-off (scheduled for 1 June) as they currently lead Division 2A following back-to-back wins over Lithuania and Switzerland. A strong first-half showing set the Netherlands on the road to a 24-7 victory over Switzerland, with 18 unanswered points being scored before the break. The Dutch will face Malta (home) and Croatia (away) on consecutive weekends in April.

Poland are the frontrunners in Division 1B, boasting a 100 per cent record after two matches played, having beaten the Czech Republic and Germany. Next up is the Ukraine in Gdansk on 30 March. Victory there and Poland will travel to Moldova and Sweden knowing they are halfway towards a play-off against the Round 3 winner on 10 May 2014.

Whoever comes out on top in the Round 4 play-off will face the third-placed team from Division 1A. The elite tier, commonly referred to as ‘Six Nations B’, looks stronger than ever and it would take a brave person to predict the winner once the action gets underway in February.

Georgia, Spain, Romania, Russia and Portugal currently sit 17th to 21st respectively in the IRB World Rankings and have all graced the Rugby World Cup stage, while the rapidly improving Belgium are just behind in 23rd.

The champions and runners-up will qualify directly for RWC 2015 as Europe 1 and Europe 2. Last time this was Georgia and Russia with Romania, the third placed team, safely negotiating the Répechage route.

THE AMERICAS

Click here for diagram explaining the qualification process >>

Just like Europe, the Americas region – combining teams from North and South American – will provide two qualifiers – and a team for the Répechage.

USA and Canada will play off home and away to determine the Americas 1 qualifier, although the losers will still have two more chances to book their passage to RWC 2015. First up is a meeting with the CONSUR ( Confederación Sudamericana de Rugby) A winners, be that Uruguay, Chile or Brazil. The loser will represent the Americas in the Répechage.

Thirteen nations from the region have played their part in the qualification process to date, with Brazil the only one of them still standing after beating Paraguay 35-22 in a play-off in the searing heat of Sao Paulo in October. Led by captain Daniel Gregg, a 12-season veteran, the hosts were good value for their win – which ensured they remain in the CONSUR A picture – in front of a record home crowd.

But history suggests that Uruguay is the most likely of all the South American nations to push hardest for qualification. Los Teros have agonizingly missed out on a place at the last two Rugby World Cups, falling at the final hurdle to Portugal – by a single point on aggregate – for RWC 2007 and Romania for New Zealand 2011.

AFRICA

Click here for diagram explaining the qualification process >>

Madagascar enjoyed fantastic backing when they hosted the first African qualifier on 4 July, an estimated 35,000 spectators packing into the Mahamasima Stadium to see their side record a 35-28 win over Morocco.

That crowd was bettered by 5,000 for their Africa Cup Division 1B final match against Namibia and they were rewarded with an incredible 57-54 win (after extra-time) that earned Madagascar promotion to Division 1A in 2013. 

The winners of Division 1A in 2014 will go through to England as Africa 1, with the runner-up entering the Répechage for a chance to become the 20th and final qualifier for RWC 2015.

The pressure is now on Namibia to qualify for a fifth successive Rugby World Cup after that loss to Madagascar as they must now win back-to-back titles to go through as of right. They will be joined in Division 1B in 2013 by Botswana, who edged out RWC 1995 participants Ivory Coast to win Division 1C in September. Both sides had a ‘played two, won two’ record in the five-team competition, but Botswana took the title – and ended Ivory Coast’s dreams of a second RWC appearance – because they had a point differential just one better than their rivals.

ASIA

Click here for diagram explaining the qualification process >>

The Philippines continue to make big strides in Asia where one direct qualification place and one Répechage spot are available.

In April they were promoted to the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Top 5 to complete a remarkable rise up the Asian rugby ranks from the depths of being in the fifth tier in 2008. Three straight bonus-point victories saw them finish above Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei and Singapore on home soil in Manila.
 
Statistically, the Volcanoes are the second most successful Asian team behind Japan, having lost only once in four years (in last year’s Division I semi-final to Korea).  Japan has won all 20 of their Top 5 matches with bonus points and will again be expected to qualify as Asia 1. Don’t discount the Philippines, though, especially with the points-scoring exploits of the Saunders, Matthews and Letts brothers.

Meanwhile, Thailand are still in the qualification hunt after they overcame India 42-29 in a play-off to gain promotion to Division I next year. The Division I champions in 2013 will join the Top 5 in 2014, the winner of which will qualify for England 2015 as Asia 1 with the runner-up entering the Répechage.

OCEANIA

Click here for diagram explaining the qualification process >>

The only region yet to being its qualification process for RWC 2015, Oceania will finally get underway in June when with all IRB Full Member Unions in the region will have an opportunity to compete for a direct qualification place at RWC 2015. The Oceania Cup is again the first step on the journey to England 2015 with American Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanuatu expected to battle it out for the title.

The Oceania Cup champions will then take on Fiji in a one-off match in 2014 with the winner qualifying for RWC 2015 as Oceania 1. Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga have already qualified automatically for RWC 2015 after finishing in the top three of their respective pools at RWC 2011 and it would take a brave person to bet against Fiji claiming that qualification spot.
 
Fiji are currently ranked 13th in the world, which is some 38 places higher than their nearest rivals Papua New Guinea (51st), who are followed by the Cook Islands (55th), Solomon Islands (70th), Niue (71st), Tahiti (85th) and Vanuatu (95th). The Fijians have never lost to any of their prospective rivals, the Cook Islands running them closest when they lost 53-7 in the summer of 1997.

There will be many more twists and turns on the road to Rugby World Cup 2015, so stay tuned to the official tournament website - www.rugbyworldcup.com - for all the latests news and results.

THE POOL ALLOCATION DRAW WILL BE STREAMED LIVE ON RUGBYWORLDCUP.COM FROM 14:55 UK TIME ON 3 DECEMBER (15:55 CET, 16:55 (South Africa), 11:55 (Argentina), 01:55 4 December (NSW Australia), 03:55 4 December (New Zealand, Fiji), 04:55 4 December (Samoa).