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This Saturday, Samoa and Germany commence the first of two home and away games to determine who moves forward in to the 2019 Rugby World Cup Playoff spot. The winner will compete in Pool A against Ireland, Scotland, Japan, and Russia. The second Playoff match will be July 14.
Germany qualified by defeating Portugal in a one off game. The German XV are 5-10 in 2017 and 2018 with victories against Romania, Kenya, Brazil, Belgium, and Portugal.
Samoa is 0-9 in the same time period, but with close losses against Wales, Fiji, and Tonga.
The loser will go into the final tournament, the Repechage event of four countries, which will decide the last RWC 2019 placement. It might consist of Samoa/Germany, Canada, Kenya, and Hong Kong/Cook Islands. That winner will play in Pool C versus New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, and Africa 1 (probably, Namibia).
The first RWC in 1987 started with a sixteen-team flight, and continued with that same total in 1991 and 1995. Then, in 1999, the event expanded to 20-teams, comprising four pools of five sides each.
Of all the many fifteens that have competed since 1987, only eight have made it into the semifinal round of the eight total tournaments. Past RWC data follow:
XV Top 4 Finishes
(* Did not play in 1987 and 1991.)
In RWC 2015, Japan went 3-1 in pool play, including an upset of South Africa. But the Springboks and Scotland also achieved a 3-1 result, and they moved forward on points. In sum, no Tier 2 team has made it into the RWC semifinals. Of note, is that this also includes Tier 1 side Ireland who have failed to make it out of the quarterfinals in all eight of the RWCs. Currently, Ireland stand second in World Rugby rankings.
Are 20 sides too much for this RWC event, where, historcially, the lower ranked fifteens serve as fodder for the top teams? (The so called "minnows" have only defeated top sides on three occasions in the eight Cups: Western Samoa, Tonga, and Japan.)
Or will World Rugby add more teams as is currently planned by FIFA, the international soccer football organization. The FIFA World Cup in Russia has reached the half way mark with the traditional 40-teams playing in eight pools. But FIFA has plans to expand the Cup to 48-teams, adding one more nation to each of the eight pools.
What would a possible RWC look like with four more countries added to make four pools of six teams each?