World Rugby’s decision to make the World Cup draw almost 1000 days before the tournament is likely to prove to be a mistake. A failure to account for more recent performances of the 20 teams risks undermining the attractiveness of the tournament for fans, as well as undermining sporting integrity.
Four years ago, England produced one of their greatest Rugby World Cup performances, rampaging past New Zealand to reach the final. England’s team were the youngest ever to start the final: English rugby seemed to be in a strong place.
In the other semi-final, Wales narrowly lost to South Africa. Afterwards, Wales Coach Warren Gatland, with a shade of envy, suggested that England had played their “final” early. He was right – England’s performance drop in the final was stark, with South Africa bullying England upfront and scoring freely. Gatland had correctly predicted the decline, but what he couldn’t have foreseen was that it would continue for the next 4 years.
Poor results over the 2021 and 2022 Six Nations, an uninspiring 2023 Six Nations and flat performances in the World Cup warm up games have left the most optimistic of England fans searching for hope.
That hope has come in the form of the draw, resulting in England having a clear route to the semi finals.
But just how important is the draw and are England the only beneficiaries?
The 2023 Rugby World Cup draw on 14th December 2020 grouped teams into 5 bands based on performance levels. Since then teams have improved and declined, meaning the resulting groups have an uneven spread of the current best teams across groups, with the 5 strongest current teams placed in Group A and Group B.