The journey to Japan continues! - by Pete Redman

The journey to Japan continues! - by Pete Redman

I know, I know. I promised regular blog updates on the RWC2019 and I’ve been lax. Unfortunately, work gets in the way of life sometimes!

 

And we’ve had a fair ol’ bit of movement in qualifying over the last few weeks. I’d start at the beginning, but it would get muddled in the middle thanks to some weird scheduling, so I’m going to work by Confederation.

 

Americas

In the Americas qualifying, Argentina qualified automatically which left behind a raft of nearly-men and also-rans. The also-rans included the likes of Bahamas and St Vincent and the Grenadines, who were both eliminated in early 2016 along with many others.

 

In fact, here’s a fact: St Vincent and the Grenadines were the first nation knocked out of qualifying, losing 48-0 at home to Jamaica in a match refereed by one Nigel Owens. That man gets everywhere.

 

The USA and Canada, as the highest ranked nations moved straight to the final qualifying stage, which we will get to soon!

 

Roll forward a year and most of the competition had gone. The afore-mentioned Jamaica lost their next 3 in Round 1a. Are you still with me? Then hang on…

 

Round 1a was won by Mexico who then lost to winners of Round 1b, Colombia, who then lost to Paraguay who were last in Round 2a but retained their place in the “top” group for the nearly-final Round 3. In Round 3, the bigger boys from Chile, Brazil and Uruguay joined the action and Round 3a (yes, “a”) was comfortably won by Uruguay.

 

If you’re still with me, well done. Please note though that at this point nobody has actually qualified yet. Except Argentina, if you can remember that far back.

 

Uruguay’s prize was more matches… against the loser of Round 3b!

 

Round 3b was the much-anticipated head to head of Canada and USA. Canada went in as favourites, hoping to preserve their proud record as World Cup ever-presents. The USA missed 1995 but have been to every other event.

 

The first leg in Canada was a highly-competitive 28-28 draw. In truth, the USA blew a 10-point lead with 10 minutes to go and despite a good result away from home, they were disappointed not to have had better.

 

The second leg in San Diego turned into a rout. The US scored 8 tries, were never behind after the 9th minute and ended with a record victory over their neighbours. On top of this, this was the first time that the USA had qualified as “Americas 1”. An excellent achievement for a fast-growing rugby nation.

 

The USA now join England, France and Argentina in Pool C. This pool is completed by “Oceania 2”, but you’ll have to read on to find out more about that!

 

The Canadians? Well they have a double header against Uruguay in January/February 2018 to decide “Americas 2” and who goes on to play more matches in the Repechage. (Note: Uruguay have already played 6 matches to get this far!)

 

Oceania

Oceania is, thankfully, a bit more straight-forward than the Americas. A couple of small nations, Australia and NZ have already qualified, leaving 5 nations behind.

 

Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all had disappointing World Cups overall and all had to enter the qualifying stage. The three are grouped for the 2016-17 Pacific Nations Cup, with each team playing the others home and away.

 

In 2016, Fiji beat Tonga and Samoa at home, whilst Tonga lost in Samoa. Importantly, perhaps, no team achieved a try bonus point but Tonga did manage a losing bonus point in Suva. In a tightly contested group, that could well become relevant…

 

Tonga started the 2017 return rotation bottom of the group but a win at home to Samoa boosted their qualification chances. However, Samoa earned the losing bonus point with a late try and put more pressure back onto Tonga.

 

Samoa’s defeat left Fiji knowing that a win in Tonga would secure them top spot and qualification as “Oceania 1”. On the flip-side, Tonga knew a win would put them in the driving seat. A close-fought match ensued and early in the second half Tonga lead 10-3. A try and couple of penalties swayed the match in Fiji’s favour and they held on for a 14-10 victory.

 

Fiji had qualified and would join Australia, Wales and Georgia in Pool D. Pool D will be completed by “Americas 2” which as we all know is Uruguay or Canada.

 

Tonga, again, had at least snatched a losing bonus point but they knew qualification was out of their hands. They had completed their matches and sat in second place, with just Samoa hosting Fiji in Apia. Samoa had the advantage – their head-to-head record was better than Tonga, so they went into the game knowing just a bonus point would be enough to give them the “Oceania 2” spot and send Tonga to the play-offs.

 

An early try for Fiji didn’t help Samoa, but by half time they had recovered and led 16-14. The second half was one way traffic though, as Fiji scored 3 unanswered tries and ended up victorious by a score of 38-16, with scrum-half Henry Seniloli grabbing himself a hat-trick and Ben Volavola being a perfect 6/6 from the tee. Not that it would’ve affected the end result, but Tusi Pisi was a poor 4/7 by comparison.

 

What this means is that Tonga’s 2 losing BPs home and away v Fiji had left them in second. Tonga will join the afore-mentioned Pool C alongside England.

 

“BUT WAIT”, I hear you cry, “You said there were 5 nations left behind. What of the other two?”

 

As yes, Tahiti and the Cook Islands. In a strange twist of qualifying wizardry, World Rugby have decided these two can play-off for the right at another shot at the top table. This match will be held in the Cook Islands on 4 August. The winner will play the winner of the 2018 Asian Rugby Championship over 2 legs to win… a spot in the Repechage.

 

I won’t overload you with the European, African and Asian qualifications yet. We have time for those!

If you’re still with me, congratulations. Have yourself a beer/wine/cocktail and bask in the glory of understanding World Rugby.