Pool system back in favour for World Cup
The 1997 Rugby World Cup Sevens will revert back to the original Hong Kong Sevens format of eight pools of three for the first two days of the tournament organisers revealed yesterday.
The second RWC Sevens will be played from March 21-23 at the Hong Kong Stadium with the first two days will comprise a qualifying round robin format.
On Sunday (March 23) the tournament will be a knockout competition on the same basis as this year's Hong Kong Sevens.
RWC's board of directors said they had decided to go with the 'old' Hong Kong Sevens format as it had long been established as a success.
The new World Cup champions next year will have to play seven games to win the title.
In 1993, reigning champions England played 11 games.
Competitors next year will play a total of 69 games.
This year the Hong Kong Sevens changed the eight pools of three format, to six pools of four and played it over three days - all for the sake of making the preliminary round more competitive and less predictable.
RWC chairman Leo Williams said that although he had been 'encouraged by what he saw this year in terms of organisation for next year's World Cup', the board of directors had decided not to tamper with the formula.
'This year's Hong Kong Sevens format was experimental. We made our decision six months ago to go ahead with the old format,' said Williams.
'We have no doubt at all about Hong Kong's ability to host a major international event.' A complicated format will see 21 qualifiers and the three direct entries - England, Australia the runners-up in 1993 and hosts Hong Kong - drawn into eight pools of three for day one to determine the rankings, from one to 24, of the participants.
On day two, the teams will be seeded in eight pools of three according to the first day results - first through to eighth-ranked teams occupying Pools A-to-H respectively; 9-16 in reverse order (i.e. the ninth ranked team will be in Pool H and the 16th ranked team in Pool A) and 17-24 from Pool A-to-H again.
This will result in Pool A on the second day comprising the top finisher on the first day and the 16th and 17th ranked sides. Pool B will have 2-15-18, etc.
'At the end of the second day, the eight pool winners will go into the Cup competition in the same way as which happened at this year's Hong Kong Sevens,' Williams said.
The first day's results will also go a long way to separating the two top teams as they will be in different halves of the draw on the second day.
This means team one and team two will not play each other unless they enter the Cup final - if the form book holds.
'We decided to have two days of pool competition to avoid criticism that there might be an imbalance in the quality of the teams in the qualifying rounds,' Williams said.
'It gives everyone a second chance.' RWC has designated where each of the 64 qualifiers will play.
The qualifying rounds will be held in Lisbon (eight teams qualify), Dubai (eight) and Punta del Este, Uruguay, (five). To make it as even as possible, RWC has separated top sevens teams New Zealand, Fiji and Western Samoa who will all play in different qualifiers.
Automatic qualifiers Hong Kong have been given a tough first-up outing as they have been drawn with the winners of the Dubai tournament - most likely Fiji.
The territory can regard themselves unfortunate as they will have to rack up as many points as possible on the first day to ensure that they have an easier day-two round.
The higher a team finishes on the first day, the more likely the chance that they will play lesser-ranked sides on day two.
Other decisions reached by RWC were - that Hong Kong Rugby Football Union will be suitably compensated for not holding the Hong Kong Sevens next year; that the three-year IRB eligibility rule will stand (which will see a country like New Zealand being unable to field Fijian Waisake Masirewa) and that drug tests on Olympic guidelines will be undertaken.
It is highly unlikely that the World Cup will adopt the Hong Kong Sevens re-start rule.
QUALIFYING ROUND DRAWS Lisbon, Portugal (June 1-2, 1996) Pool A: Ireland, Norway, Hungary.
Pool B: New Zealand, Moldova, Lithuania.
Pool C: Spain, Belgium, Bulgaria.
Pool D: Korea, Sweden, Croatia.
Pool E: Canada, Ukraine, Switzerland.
Pool F: Namibia, Georgia, Austria.
Pool G: Romania, Poland, Andorra.
Pool H: Latvia, Portugal, Luxembourg.
Top eight qualify.
Dubai (November 21-22, 1996) Pool A: Fiji, Russia, Botswana.
Pool B: South Africa, Czech Republic, Malaysia.
Pool C: Tonga, Kenya, Denmark.
Pool D: Wales, Zimbabwe, Singapore.
Pool E: Scotland, Yugoslavia, Zambia.
Pool F: USA, Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka.
Pool G: Italy, Morocco, Thailand.
Pool H: Taiwan, Gulf, Tunisia.
Top eight qualify.
Punta del Este, Uruguay (January 4-5, 1997) Pool A: Western Samoa, Israel, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago.
Pool B: Argentina, Germany, Papua New Guinea, Bermuda.
Pool C: Japan, Netherlands, Chile, Tahiti.
Pool D: France, Uruguay, Bahamas, Cook Islands.
Top five qualify.