Wait, what if...? How Ireland's and other World Cup pools will be decided

A win over France would make this a whole lot less complicated.

WE’RE AROUND THE final bend in the Rugby World Cup Pool stage.

We know four quarter-finalists for certain, three more almost for certain and that leaves just one pool with a genuine qualification contest this week.

But looking at it that way would be selling the competition a long way short. There are still the coveted top places to play for. Because there is a big difference between facing a team who have battled their way to the peak of five teams, and a team who has sneaked into the knock-out stages in second.

Mike Ross You don't have to be Mike Ross to work this out. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Before we go though who needs what result, let’s clear up the factors that will decide who tops a pool.

Firstly, and most obviously, points: You get four points for a win, two for a draw and bonus points for a loss by seven or less and if you score four tries. Everyone clear? Good, let’s move on… Billy Vunipola down the back, are you sure you’re up to speed? Alright.

If two teams are level on points then things get interesting.

The winner of the head-to-head match between the teams level on points will decide which side is ranked higher.

For example (spoiler alert, Pool C fans): New Zealand and Argentina are four points apart going in to the final weekend. If the All Blacks were to get only a losing bonus point against Tonga while the Pumas beat Namibia with a try bonus point, they would both finish on 15 points. New Zealand would still top Pool C because they beat Argentina on the opening weekend.

If the teams somehow finish level on points after drawing with each other then we go to the third tie-breaking factor: points difference.

This is a familiar concept, right? ‘Points scored’ minus ‘points conceded’ = ‘points difference’. If yours is better than the team you’ve drawn a dead heat with in the pool, you’re in.

Iain Henderson Iain Henderson, mathematical genius. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

We probably won’t get this far in most cases, but should even that end up neck and neck, the pool will come down to try difference, then points scored, tries scored and then, if the teams somehow still can’t be separated, it will be decided by world ranking.

We’ll go through the pools in reverse order, because that puts Ireland top of the pile.

Pool D

Ireland and France have both secured a place in the quarter-finals but will meet on Sunday to decide who tops the pool and who finishes second.

pool d

The most likely outcome is that one side will win, move to 18 or 19 points and that will be that.

Should the match end in a draw (which has happened twice in the last four meetings) with neither team scoring four or more tries, Ireland will top the pool as they have a superior points difference.

A draw will only take France top if they manage to score four tries to secure a bonus point and stop Ireland doing the same.

Why do we care again?

This is as good a time as any to remind everyone why it matters that Ireland top Pool D.

The draw for the knock-out stage has already been made.


The winners of Pool D will meet the runners-up of Pool C in the quarter-final and the Pool D runners-up will face the winners of Pool C. The winners of Pool C are more than likely going to be the reigning world champions, New Zealand.

Pool C

As we mentioned above, New Zealand need just a losing bonus point when they take on Tonga to secure first place.

Tonga need a series of miracles to make the knock-out stage. First, they must beat New Zealand with a bonus point and then they have to hope that Argentina have been partying with Diego Maradona and contrive to get no points from their clash with Namibia. That unlikely series of events would put Tonga in second place behind their Pacific pals.

pool c

Basically, a single point will do the job for both All Blacks and Pumas.

Pool B

Thanks to Japan, this pool is still interesting. Though South Africa have wrestled control back after their opening day loss, the ‘Boks still need a win over the USA tomorrow (Wednesday) to be assured of qualification and top spot.

If they do that, even a bonus point win from Scotland can’t overtake them — because of the head-to-head result.

b pool

Japan will know their fate by the time they kick off against USA on Sunday. Anything less than three points for Scotland against Samoa on Saturday will leave the door open for the Brave Blossoms.

Pool A

The Pool of Death: where once there were five, now there are two.

Australia lead the way going in to Saturday’s decider on points difference, so Wales must beat – or get a three point draw with four tries – to beat the Wallabies to first place.

pool a

If the spoils are shared then the Wallabies will remain top on points difference and so avoid the likely quarter-final against South Africa.

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