There’s going to be a major casualty in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup in Japan as it’s highly likely that after this weekend’s action at least one of Samoa, Romania or Canada will not qualify for the sport’s most prestigious international tournament.
All three teams have qualified for every Rugby World Cup since 1987.
Russia have already been eliminated, despite having one of the most advanced domestic leagues of any Tier 2 nation; this includes several fully professional teams such as Yenisey-STM Krasnoyarsk and Krasny Yar Krasnoyarsk, who are reported to have an operating budget of €2.5 million.
Spain have thrown a major spanner in the works.
They have lost just one game in the Rugby Europe Championship, formerly known as the Six Nations ‘B’. Beating Romania early on has effectively left ‘The Oaks’ fighting for their Rugby World Cup survival, with a win over perennial champions Georgia their last chance of automatic qualification.
Meanwhile Spain face Belgium, who have just one game against Germany to their name in this year’s tournament, whose own rapid decline this year will surely worry World Rugby who will be eager to develop a market with a population of 80 million people.
Save for an unlikely and heavy victory for Romania in Tbilisi, it is highly likely that Spain will qualify for the Rugby World Cup this weekend.
This would force Romania into a home and away play-off (on aggregate) match with Samoa.
While Samoa are ranked one place above Romania (16th and 17th respectively) in the World Rankings and can boast far more big name players in their full strength side, Romania have the edge in the matchup, having won both encounters with the Pacific Island nation to date.
The most recent match between the sides was last November and Romania ran out 17 – 13 victors.
Meanwhile Canada have sunk to a lowly 21st in the World Rankings and on current form one suspects they will be the clear underdogs against either of the two higher ranked sides.
Romanian have beaten the Canucks on 4 of 6 occasions, while the Samoans have won all 6 games they have played against North American side.
Whichever way this rugby cookie crumbles, one nation faces a sporting nightmare.