The Rugby World Cup group stage is finally at an end. On top of issues created from drawing the groups too early, the first round has suffered from its predictability and length. Just 4 of the 40 games resulted in an underdog winner, 2-3 times less than comparable competitions, and the month-long stage has felt stop-start.
Both of these issues are a function of rugby’s physicality. It is unreasonable to expect Chile to compete with England with a fraction of their resources, and players also require a week’s rest between games.
But alternative formats could help World Rugby meet the tournament’s dual objectives of growing the game and entertaining fans. Swiss-style formats can bring jeopardy to win margins, or 3-team groups for the 24-team 2027 World Cup could strike a better balance between these objectives.
As for the current World Cup, its legacy now rests on a compelling knockout stage.