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There are 12 teams split across three pools. The top two teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals, along with two of the three third-place teams. How are places determined?
There is a simple point structure in place – 3 for a win, 2 for a tie, and 1 for any loss. Unlike in 15s, there are no bonus points of any kind. If you lose by 100 or 1, you still get 1 point. If you score 96 tries or 2, there’s no difference in pool points. Really, the points are inconsequential, as simply using a winning percentage like in the NFL or MLB would produce the same result.
Should two teams in a pool wind up with the same points (or winning percentage), head-to-head is the first tiebreaker. If that doesn’t settle it or there are three teams with identical points, then it’s point differential. That usually settles it, but if it doesn’t, then it goes to try differential.
The most common result of a particular pool is for one team to go undefeated, the second-place team to finish 2-1, third to go 1-2 and for the last place team to go winless. This happens often, but not always.
Occasionally, three teams will finish 2-1 and the bottom dweller in the pool finishes 0-3. In that instance, unless pigs fly and it happens in all three pools, the 2-1 third-place team is certain to reach the quarterfinals.
But in most other cases (two teams finish 2-1 and two finish 1-2, or the top team is 3-0 and the bottom three are all 1-2) the third-place team in a four-team pool is going to be 1-2. That’s especially important in Rio, with two of three third-place teams getting into the quarterfinals. This is the most likely scenario, which means point differential is key.
When there’s a draw in a pool, and it results in the third-place team being 1-1-1, like it did for Team USA’s women, it usually means that team will get in, because it’s better than being 1-2 by every measure, and 1-2 is the most common record for third-place teams.
What does all this mean for the Eagles, who just lost 17-14 to Argentina? They need to pile the points on Brazil, in case they finish 1-2. If they beat Brazil and Fiji, they’ll make it in for sure and may win the pool. If they beat Brazil and lose to Fiji, whether or not they advance will come down to three things – 1) did any of the third-place teams in the other pools do better than 1-2? Let’s hope not, but if only one does, then see the next two points as more crucial. 2) Can the USA pile the points on Brazil? 3) Can they keep Fiji as close as possible?
Coming into the tournament, Brazil would have been considered the overwhelming underdog most susceptible to a blowout. So, on paper, the USA should have the best chance of padding their differential of any potential 1-2 third-place team. Now they need to see that through on the field.