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Ireland’s World Cup seeding won’t be affected if Italy game is cancelled

Quirk of World Rugby’s ranking system safeguards Ireland from losing valuable points as they hope to be top seeds in November draw for 2023 tournament.

Bundee Aki and Jimmy Tuivatti hope the game gets the thumbs up.
Bundee Aki and Jimmy Tuivatti hope the game gets the thumbs up.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WORLD RUGBY HAS confirmed that if the Ireland-Italy game is never played then it will have no impact on their ranking points system, which determines the seedings for the 2023 World Cup.

Ireland are currently positioned fourth in World Rugby’s rankings with 84.91 points. France, in fifth, are just 1.05 points adrift of Andy Farrell’s team. The reason this matters relates to what happens in Paris on November 30, when the draw is made for the 2023 World Cup.

Should Ireland hold onto fourth spot in the rankings, then they will be bracketed as top seeds along with South Africa, New Zealand and England, and thereby free to avail of an easier draw.

In the eventuality of a dip in their ranking score, they’d be second seeds – the positions currently held by France, Australia, Wales and Scotland.

One British newspaper had stated that if the Italy-Ireland game is never played, it would be recorded as a 0-0 draw, which would cost Ireland a full ranking point. In that scenario, they would be perilously close to France’s tally.

However, World Rugby operate a complicated system whereby teams gain more points when they defeat teams ranked higher than them, and get additional ranking points if such a victory is achieved away from home or by a margin of 15 points or more.

Given Italy’s lowly ranking, Ireland would not receive any ranking points whatsoever if they defeated them. In other words, the non-playing of this fixture would only penalise the Italians, not Ireland.

The problem now is finding a suitable date in the calendar for the match to go ahead. No free dates exist in the international windows – club fixtures filling up every available weekend from March 21 until June 20.

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There is a free weekend on June 27 but the following three weekends are packed with internationals, Ireland playing Australia on July 4 and July 11, Italy travelling to USA and Canada on those dates, before they head south to play Argentina on July 18.

That leaves June 27, July 25 and the first three weekends in September, as possible dates to reschedule the match.

Yet there is one further complication. Three Italian players are employed by English Premiership clubs – two at Gloucester, one at Wasps. Those clubs aren’t obliged to release those players.

As if all these issues weren’t complicated enough, there are further potential problems. Financially, the Six Nations is the biggest money-spinner for the respective unions, with both Italy and Ireland guaranteed a fee in the region of €18.3m for participating.

That’s before ticket sales, corporate add-ons and sponsorship get added into the equation. Additionally, the position a team finishes in the table brings its own financial rewards. The difference between finishing first and second in the tournament is worth approximately €2m to the IRFU. The gap between second and third is about €1m in prize money.

Given that Ireland have never lost at home to Italy in this tournament, it is vital they play the game to have a stronger chance of securing a high finishing position in the table. The last time the tournament was not completed was in 1972 when Wales and Scotland refused to come to Dublin because they feared for their safety.

THE 2020 RUGBY CALENDAR
March 14 
Six Nations round five
March 20/21/22 and March 27/28/29 Pro14 weekends
April 4/5 Champions Cup quarters
April 10/11/12 and 17/18/19 and 24/25/26  Pro14 weekends
May 1/2/3 Champions Cup semis
May 8/9/10 and 15/16 Pro14 weekends
May 23 Champions Cup final
May 30 Pro14 final day
June 6  Pro14 quarters
June 12/13 Pro14 semi-finals
June 20 Pro14 final
June 27 Free weekend
July 4 Australia v Ireland; United States v Italy
July 11 Australia v Ireland; Canada v Italy
July 18 Argentina v Italy
Sept 27 Pro14 starts

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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