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Shake-up coming to 2023 Rugby World Cup

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by William West/ AFP)

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While the top sides will all feel like they’re repeating history at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France thanks to the remarkably familiar pools that were drawn two years ago, there are set still set to be some massive changes to next year’s tournament.

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The live draw held at the end of 2020 threw out a number of frequent RWC match-ups with New Zealand and Italy drawn alongside each other for the second tournament in a row, as were Ireland and Scotland, and Australia, Wales and Fiji.

As such, some of the freshness of the World Cup was stripped from the tournament early in the piece, with many fans preferring to see new fixtures instead of repeating ones.

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Where the competition will be very different, however, is further down the table with the emerging test nations.

Already Canada have missed out on qualifying for the 2023 tournament after suffering defeats to the USA and Chile last year. Until now, Canada have been ever-present at rugby’s flagship event, making appearances at every tournament since the inaugural competition held in 1987.

With the United States suffering defeat at the hands of Uruguay in last year’s qualifiers, they now have to best Chile in July otherwise they too could end up missing out on France 2023. The USA have only been absent from one tournament in their history after just 16 teams travelled to South Africa for the 1995 event.

Meanwhile, another recent tournament attendee’s chances took a big blow over the weekend with Russia suffering a third successive Rugby Europe Championship loss.

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Russia were somewhat of a surprise participant in the 2019 World Cup after both Romania and Spain were docked considerable points during the qualifying process for fielding ineligible players. While Russia were only the third-best performer during Europe’s qualifying events for the 2019 tournament, they qualified ahead of Romania and Spain.

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Providing no such controversies occur during the current qualifiers, it looks like Russia will almost certainly miss out on qualifying for the 2023 World Cup. In order to at the very least make the final qualifying tournament, Russia would need to finish third on the overall Europe qualifying ladder but they currently sit fifth with 10 points, behind Georgia (31 points), Romania (22), Spain (21) and Portugal (16).

Although there are still three matches to play, Russia would have to do the unthinkable and beat both Georgia and Portugal (plus score a big victory over the Netherlands) to really even give themselves a chance of staying in the hunt.

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While the challenge isn’t quite as sizeable for Portugal, who competed at a Rugby World Cup  for the first and last time in 2007 where they were placed into a pool with the All Blacks and France, it’s looking increasingly likely that Georgia and one of Romania or Spain will take the automatic qualifier spots, with the third-ranked team set to play in the final qualifying tournament.

Romania had never missed out on World Cup qualification until the debacle of 2019 while Georgia have been a staple at the tournament since 2003. Romania have competed at just one event, in 1999.

The final three rounds of this year’s Rugby Europe Championship (and therefore the final three rounds of European qualifying events) will take place on the weekends of February 26, March 12 and March 19, in line with the Six Nations.

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