Rugby World Cup format set for shakeup

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epa10475490 Visitors take pictures of the Webb Ellis Cup during the Rugby World Cup 2023 Trophy Tour at a public viewing event in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 18 February 2023. The Webb Ellis Rugby World Cup Trophy arrived in Sri Lanka for six days as part of the Trophy Tour, ahead of the Rugby World Cup event in France later this year. EPA/CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE

World Rugby is reportedly considering expanding the Rugby World Cup, starting from the 2031 edition, as part of their ongoing efforts to promote the global growth of the sport.

According to UK newspaper The Times, the US has emerged as a strong advocate for this expansion, pushing for a tournament with 24 teams and the inclusion of a last-16 stage when they host the event in 2031. This would mark the first time the Rugby World Cup is held in the Americas.

World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper had previously expressed his belief that expansion was inevitable, and his sentiments were echoed by Bill Beaumont, who emphasised the importance of involving more nations in the tournament.

The proposed format would feature six groups of four teams, with all group winners and runners-up progressing, along with the three best third-place teams. The seeding process would become more intricate.

Scheduling is a consideration, as the tournament traditionally overlaps with the NFL and Major League Soccer seasons in the US.

The possibility of holding the event between June to September is being explored, while 24 cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, are believed to have been shortlisted as potential hosts for the 2031 World Cup.

Zimbabwe will have to endure another agonising wait to try and qualify for the country’s first Rugby World Cup since 1991, following a disappointing defeat to perennial tormentors Namibia in France last July.

The Sables lost 34-19 to the Namibians in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup, which was also a qualifier for the 2023 World Cup finals.

However an expansion of the World Cup to 24 teams would significantly brighten Zimbabwe’s chances of qualifying for the global competition.

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