I wrote right after the Rugby World Cup that there were likely to be many changes needed to the rules and regulations for the 2011 RWC in New Zealand. Among the proposals was the notion that the field should be reduced from 20 to 16. Personally, I was in favor of this idea. It would have meant that the competitivity of the matches, on balance, would have risen. It would have meant that certain teams would not “waste” themselves in irrelevant pool games. This BBC report explains the decision to stay at 20 teams (see also IRB.com report). The article cites the following “performance” of the minnows:
“Fiji defeated Wales to reach the last eight and were level at 20-20 with South Africa after an hour of their quarter-final, while Georgia came within four points of defeating Ireland in their pool game.”
I believe that Fiji’s beating Wales or nearly beating Ireland is not exactly “giant killing” stuff. The 20-20 halfway score of Fiji against South Africa, like many other half-time scores was not representative of the match nor the final score. BTW, the final score for RSA v Fiji was 37-20. And I’d rather point to Japan’s performance against Fiji (losing 31-35). Fiji has a stronger tradition of playing rugby than many of the other minnows… How about the twelve matches where more than 50 points were scored on an opponent, or the sixteen (out of 40 total pool) matches with a 30 point difference?
And, not to belittle the Puma performance in the 2007 RWC by any means, the other quote from the BBC article, below, is borderline tautology:
“The forum also agreed that Argentina’s future lies in the southern hemisphere, ruling out the possibility of the Pumas, who finished third at the World Cup, joining the Six Nations.”
Clearly, politics and money are as much involved as any rational justifications. Perhaps there were some unknown binding promises and some people who needed to justify the large investments made to upgrade the international level of rugby. In any event, I have to hope that the changes in the regulations are more soundly reviewed. (Plan 2011 here!)