Boots and all

Hong Kong cop short end of the stick as World Rugby joins ICC in losing sight of what World Cups are all about

A new scheduling format that features a ‘pre-round of 16’ means Paul John’s side may be bundled out after just one match

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 12:12pm

The International Cricket Council has drawn the ire of all and sundry after reducing its 50-over World Cup from 14 teams to 10, but it may finally have found an ally in World Rugby.

The David v Goliath battles – and the upsets that the sporting public love so much – have effectively been stamped out of cricket and World Rugby took a step in the same direction on Wednesday when announcing the fixture for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in July.

A tournament that has traditionally been divided into pools – ensuring low seeds like Hong Kong get the chance to take on the best in the game – will now see a “pre-round of 16”, giving the top eight seeds in the 24-team competition the first round off.

The “pre-round of 16” winners then take on the world’s best teams in the round of 16, while the losers are cast aside, left to fight it out among themselves in the bowl competition.

If Hong Kong lose their opening match to Russia – more than feasible considering their opponents have spent the season on the HSBC World Sevens Series – they will return from San Francisco having played largely against teams not even in the top tier.

There was speculation that the World Cup would cease when sevens became an Olympic sport and there is talk that this will be the last iteration of an event that seems to have lost its way.

Word has it the new structure is because of the operational issues that come with having the men’s and women’s tournaments at the same venue, but surely you can stretch the tournament out?

It’s once every four years and runs for three days, what’s an earlier start or an extra day?

If it’s an issue now it’s likely to be an issue if there is a next time and if that’s the case, World Rugby are just another governing body that has lost touch with what World Cups are all about.

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Yes, they are to crown the world’s best, but they’re also about handing lower teams an experience that most don’t get during the traditional four-year gap between events.

“It does take a bit of the romance out of the World Cup,” said Dai Rees, the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s chief rugby operations officer.

“I think the structure for teams like Hong Kong is pretty poor. We have always gone to World Cups and World Series where the beauty of it for the smaller nations is to play against some of the top teams, so we always had exposure to the best core teams.

“It’s a shame because if we go out against Russia we don’t get to play against those top teams.”

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While Rees admits it is motivation for Hong Kong to become better, one would argue the hopefuls – teams that are outside the World Series – need little added motivation.

If anything, this could leave teams disillusioned – who wants to be eliminated from the biggest tournament they’re likely to play in for four years after one match?

Yes, there will be more rugby against solid opposition and the chance to win the bowl, but World Rugby are still missing the point.

Even with Spain failing to qualify, because the six World Series teams in the preliminary round have not been drawn against each other, 14 of the 15 World Series teams could make it through to the final 16, depending on results, making it essentially a (barely) glorified leg of the World Series.

Hong Kong reign supreme in Sri Lanka slop to seal spot in next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco

This decision will only ensure talk of the World Cup’s demise grows louder and, if the powers that be continue to trample on the little man, perhaps it will be for the better.

Hong Kong certainly won’t be missing out on much.