It’s a World Cup draw! World Cup draws are exciting! I am excited!
OK, I would be more excited if there were fewer than 999 days to go before the 2023 World Cup gets under way, a gap between draw and action that runs to very nearly 33 months. The next women’s World Cup, which will be played more than two years before the next men’s one, held its draw just a few weeks ago. That is an example of a rational pre-tournament draw-holding timeframe. I’m not sure how men’s rugby union slipped into the habit of ludicrously premature World Cup draws, but this isn’t the first and it won’t be the last.
Because of coronavirus and stuff, the draw for a World Cup which gets under way in September 2023 will be undertaken using by way of guidance the world rankings from 1 January 2020, 1,347 days, a smidgeon over 44 earth months, before the big kick-off. If the ranking-compiler decided, having completed his task on the first day of this year, to fill the time between then and the start of the World Cup whose qualification they will inform by listening to Hayley Westenra’s version of World in Union on repeat, they could do so 292,933 times. The current top 10 in the world rankings are as follows (with 1 January position in brackets):
- South Africa (1)
- England (3)
- New Zealand (2)
- France (7)
- Ireland (5)
- Australia (6)
- Scotland (9)
- Argentina (10)
- Wales (4)
- Japan (8)
Which makes Wales lucky, because they are in Band 1 despite currently being ranked ninth, and France unlucky, because they could have been in Band 1 themselves. But by the time the World Cup actually starts any of these teams could be much more or indeed less good than or otherwise different to how they are now, so the definitive final amount of luck remains to be apportioned.
So far 12 teams have qualified, all of them having done so by finishing in the top three of their pools at the last World Cup. Luke Thompson, the New Zealand-born Japan forward, thus played an active part in qualifying for a tournament that will kick off when he is 42 years, four months and 24 days of age, and three years, 10 months and 17 days after his retirement. This is all extremely curious.
Draw bands in full
Band 1 South Africa, New Zealand, England, Wales
Band 2 Ireland, France, Australia, Japan
Band 3 Scotland, Argentina, Fiji and Italy
Bands 4 and 5 Let’s not beat around the bush, these are complicated bands. If I had to compare these qualifying bands to a musical band, which of course I don’t but will anyway, they are like the Fall, in that they’re not very approachable and it’s hard to know what the line-up will be. So let’s take this one continent at a time:
North and South America – two guaranteed places
OK, having decided to take this one continent at a time I’ve started with two continents. That’s how unpredictable this thing is. The 2021 Rugby Americas North champion will play a two-match series against the 2021 Sudamerica Rugby champion, while the runners-up in those two competitions will do the same. The winner on aggregate of the series involving the two champions will qualify for the World Cup in Band 4, while the loser will qualify for another two-match series against the winner of other two-match series, with the winner of that two-match series also qualifying in Band 4. I think that’s clear.
Europe – two guaranteed places
The champion and runner-up from the 2021-22 Rugby Europe Championship will qualify for the World Cup in Band 4. The third-place side will head to a four-team final qualifying knock-out tournament thing in November 2022, the winners of which will go into Band 5.
Asia and Oceania – two guaranteed places
Yes, two continents again. Tonga will play a two-match series against Samoa, with the winners qualifying for the World Cup in Band 5. The runners-up will then play another two-match series against the winners of the 2021 Asia Rugby Championship, with the winners also qualifying in Band 5. The losers of the second two-match series will go into the four-team final qualifying knock-out tournament thing in November 2022, the winners of which will also go into Band 5. The very likely outcome of all this is that Tonga and Samoa will both qualify and no one else will, the two of them starting the process by playing off to decide which of them will qualify with the least hassle.
Africa – one guaranteed place
The winners of the 2022 Africa Gold Cup will qualify for the World Cup as Africa 1. The runners-up join that four-team final qualifying knock-out tournament thing in November 2022, the winners of which will go into Band 5.
Actual draw-based information
The 20 teams will be drawn into four pools. Band 5 will be drawn first and Band 1 fifth, with no surprises about the order of those in between. A “key role” in the draw will be played by six “ambassadors for France”, which include Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin and shoe magnate Christian Louboutin. As with the women’s draw, former England international Ugo Monye and South African TV presenter Elma Smit – who has covered the last three World Cups for SuperSport – will present an online-only programme around the draw via Zoom from their living rooms.
That’s about all I’ve got to tell you. Apparently f involved. Beyond that, and the 900 or so words of piffle that preceded these ones, I know little. Welcome! Let’s draw!