Stuart Barnes says the “ridiculously early” World Cup draw has “distorted” next year’s tournament in France and created a “horrendous situation”, amid Wales being one of the top seeds.
The pools were drawn way back in December 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, World Rugby decided the seedings would be based on how the world rankings looked at the start of that year, when Wales were still reigning Six Nations Grand Slam champions and ranked fourth. It meant they were among the top seeds for the draw.
Ireland and France, meanwhile, who dominated this year’s Six Nations and provided all four teams in the recent European Champions Cup semi-finals, were both only second seeds.
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After a hugely disappointing season, Wayne Pivac’s men are now down in ninth spot. But the way the draw was organised means they have avoided any of the current top five, with Australia, Fiji, Georgia and a final qualifier providing their group opposition.
Former England fly-half Barnes is unhappy that the tournament format will see two of the top four in the world – South Africa, France, New Zealand and Ireland – missing out on the semi finals.
Writing in The Times, he said: “Unfortunately, the ridiculously early pool draw in December 2020 has distorted the next World Cup. Most would agree that an ideal is for the best quartet of teams to have the best opportunity of making the semi-finals. In France, two of the world’s leading contenders will be out before the semi-final stage.
“The host country are in pool A with New Zealand, while South Africa and Ireland are both in pool B. At the quarter-final stage, the winners of pool A face the runners-up of pool B and vice-versa – meaning that a maximum of two of the four best sides can reach the semi-finals. This is a horrendous situation; the premature draw has damaged the competition.
“Ireland face the top-rated team (South Africa) at pool stage and will have to beat France (second) or New Zealand (third) if they are to reach a first ever semi-final.”
Giving his thoughts on England’s prospects, Barnes says Eddie Jones’ team have been handed the “kindest of draws”, up against Japan, Argentina and Samoa.
“To win the pool is to meet – given present form – Wales or Fiji in the quarter-finals. Eddie Jones can make the last four with his highest-ranked opposition ranked eighth,” he said.
“The draw leaves supporters with the expectation of a semi-final as the very minimum. Anything less than another final will be failure for Jones and England.”
You can check out the full tournament schedule here on the Rugby World Cup website.