Zimbabwe to benefit from Rugby World Cup expansion

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Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) president Aaron Jani is confident that the country will reap the benefits from the decision by World Rugby to expand the Rugby World Cup from the current 20 teams to 24 from the 2027 edition which will be hosted by Australia.

World Rugby’s decision to expand the global showpiece event came after the global body also announced the creation of an aligned and harmonized international calendar and the introduction of a biennial Nations Championship concept.

The new bi-annual international competition that will start in 2026 will comprise a top division of 12 nations, as well as a second division of 12 nations which will run over two years, split into three window periods.

The first will be in the July international window period, the second in the November window, and the third in the following July period, which could result in more international matches per year for countries like Zimbabwe.

However it is the expansion of the Rugby World Cup which has generated excitement amongst local rugby fans as it significantly boosts Zimbabwe’s hopes of returning to the global showpiece event.

The Sables will be aiming to qualify for the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia

The Sables made the last of their two tournament appearances at the World Cup in 1991, having featured in the inaugural event four years earlier in 1987.

And Jani, who attended World Rugby’s General Assembly meeting which was held in Paris last week on the sidelines of the Rugby World Cup, welcomed the new developments and believes the country is bound to benefit significantly.

“This is a very great and welcome development for rugby internationally and of course for us as a region, Rugby Africa and closer to home as the Zimbabwe Rugby Union,” said Jani.

“What it means now is that they have made the tent a lot bigger, it means by increasing the teams from 20 to 24 more countries can participate in the World Cup. The pathways for those teams to get to 24 means a lot of rugby on the ground and opportunities for us to play more quality rugby while we attempt to make the grade for the 24 teams.”

Zimbabwe Rugby Union president Aaron Jani on the sidelines of the World Rugby General Assembly in Paris last week

The former Zimbabwe rugby international, who is also the treasurer of the continental body Rugby Africa said there will be a lot to benefit for Zimbabwe and other countries on the continent.

It is not yet clear how the qualifying system for the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia will work, but currently Africa has one continental ticket through the Africa Cup, with the runner-up joining an inter-continental repechage group where only the winning nation qualified.

“Once the pathways are established I have no doubt that we will be even happier with the opportunity of getting a chance of competing in the best competition in the world as far as rugby is concerned.

“So for us as ZRU it’s very exciting we welcome these developments with both hands and we believe this could be a good chance for us to look at how we can better our rugby so that we become a part of this great competition.

“From an African perspective obviously we hope that the number of teams that can represent us from the continent will increase from two to three and that will make it a great competition as far as rugby in Africa is concerned,” he added.

Regarding the new two-tier bi-annual international competition, there won’t be promotion/relegation matches yet, but they are planning that it starts in 2030, when the top Tier 2 nation will play out against the bottom Tier 1 nation.

The top 12 nations in the world currently are South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland, France, England, Scotland, Argentina, Wales, Australia, Fiji, Italy and Japan.

The next 12 nations are Portugal,
Georgia, Samoa, Tonga, Uruguay, USA, Spain, Romania, Namibia, Chile, Canada and Hong Kong while Zimbabwe is currently amongst the third tier nations.

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