Canadian men could be looking at new qualifying route for Rugby World Cup

TORONTO — It looks like Canada may face a different qualification path for future Rugby World Cups.

Canada coach Kingsley Jones says World Rugby is looking at using the Americas Rugby Championship as the qualifier for the region. The annual tournament features Canada, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, the U.S. and an Argentine reserve side.

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Under the proposed plan, which has yet to be formally approved by World Rugby's executive committee, the ARC tournament records in the two years before a World Cup would be combined to determine qualification.

So the two countries with the best aggregate ARC records in 2021 and 2022 would qualify for the 2023 World Cup in France. The team with the third-best record over the two tournaments would go to a last-chance repechage tournament.

The new qualifying format could be approved at the executive committee meeting in March. A request for comment from World Rugby on the proposed new qualifying format did not elicit an immediate response.

The format essentially mirrors that already used in other regions. Jones is used to the tournament process from his time running the Russian national team.

European qualifying has the team with the best two-year aggregate record from the Rugby Europe Championship qualify for the World Cup with the runner-up moving into a Europe/Oceania playoff to see who joins them.

Oceania (Pacific Nations Cup), Africa (Rugby Africa Championship) and Asia (Asia Rugby Championship) also use tournaments for their qualifying road.

The World Cup itself serves as a form of qualifier for the next tournament four years on.

Traditionally the top three teams in each of the World Cup's four groups automatically qualify for the next tournament. The remaining eight World Cup berths are determined by regional qualifiers and a last-chance repechage.

Past qualifying in the Americas has seen Canada face the U.S. in the first round with the winner booking their ticket to the World Cup and the loser having another shot. The road to the 2019 World Cup marked the first time the Canadian men had failed to beat the Americans in that home-and-away qualifying series.

Canada then lost a two-game series to Uruguay, the top-ranked South American team (Argentina had already qualified by virtue of making the semifinals at the 2015 World Cup).

That dropped the Canadian men into a repechage in France where Jones' squad beat Germany, Hong Kong and Kenya to become the 20th and last team to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

That November 2018 repechage ended a qualification process that began in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2016. World Rugby says the qualifying process involved 188 matches across 994 days with 71 teams looking to book their ticket to the rugby showcase.

In the end, the U.S., Uruguay, Russia, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Namibia and Canada were the successful qualifiers.

Had the proposed new Americas format been used ahead of the 2019 World Cup, the U.S. and Uruguay would have qualified with Canada going to the repechage, which is exactly what happened.

The plus for Jones is that, starting this year, the ARC has been shifted to August-September from February-March. That removes a clash with the Major League Rugby schedule.

Only a handful of Canada pros play outside the MLR, meaning Jones should have access to his players for the ARC with World Cup qualifying on the line.

Canada is currently ranked 22nd in the world compared to No. 17 for the U.S., No. 18 for Uruguay, No. 26 for Brazil and No. 29 for Chile. Argentina is ranked 10th but does not send its test side to the ARC.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2020.

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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