Rugby World Cup 2023 with an expanded 24-team line-up will boost Hong Kong’s hopes of qualifying
World Rugby chief Brett Gosper says the body is looking to enhance the tournament in France as long as teams can be competitive
The Hong Kong’s men’s rugby team would be among the major beneficiaries of an expanded Rugby World Cup, with World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper suggesting the tournament could feature 24 teams for the 2023 edition in France.
However, expectations must be tempered by the need to ensure that teams who have qualified for the finals are of a certain standard to prevent lopsided scores.
Hong Kong are ranked 21st in World Rugby’s latest men’s rankings and will take part in a repechage in Marseille in November against Canada, Germany and Kenya with the winners becoming the 20th and final qualifiers for the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
“Hong Kong has made significant investment in performance rugby over the past few years, and qualification for both the men’s and women’s World Cups is one of our strategic plan objectives, so we certainly welcome the suggestion of an expanded competition,” Hong Kong Rugby Union chief executive Robbie McRobbie said.
“As Brett says, though, it’s critical that all participating teams are competitive, so building a framework that facilitates performance development year round must go hand in hand with an enlarged RWC, or we will inevitably see more blowouts.”
Even with 20 teams the tournament has regularly faced criticism for serving up too many routs of smaller rugby countries that qualified through regional play-offs.
At the 2015 World Cup, pool A whipping boys Uruguay were thrashed 54-9 by Wales, 65-3 by Australia, 47-15 by Fiji and lost 60-3 to hosts England.
The Rugby World Cup has been a 20-team tournament since 1999 and Gosper said in Melbourne yesterday that an expansion was likely.
“We’re always looking from an expansive point of view rather than reducing, so it’s just a question of when rather than if,” Gosper told British media. “We want to make sure the teams are competitive enough to move to a 24-team tournament. We have assumed 20 for 2023 but we could change that between now and 2023.
“The tendency for us is to try and look to expand. It’s about growing the global game – getting interest from fans and commercial interest in new markets.
“But you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the teams. We’re definitely in an expansive mindset, is how I’d put it.”
Georgia and Namibia are among the teams who have already qualified for the Japan tournament and Gosper said that their performances on the big stage could have an influence on future tournaments.
“If those teams had a good tournament it would give courage and impetus to change,” Gosper said.
The following teams have already sealed their places in the 2019 event: Argentina, Australia, England, Fiji, France, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Namibia, New Zealand, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Tonga, Uruguay, United States and Wales.
For the 2015 World Cup in England, Hong Kong also reached the repechage stage but lost away to Uruguay in the first elimination match. Uruguay went on to qualify by beating Russia in a two-leg final.
The Hong Kong women’s team qualified for the 2017 Rugby World Cup in Ireland but lost their four pool A matches to Canada, New Zealand and Wales before suffering further defeats by Spain and Japan to finish 12th.
Additional reporting by Reuters