WXV: The devil in the detail

Every tournament must have a set of published rules – a tournament manual – that goes to teams and confederations and there is surely no reason that these cannot be published somewhere on the World Rugby website?

Published by John Birch, February 6, 2024

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WXV: The devil in the detail

A surprising – and little publicised – rule about qualification for WXV has come to light which again raises the question of how the rules and regulations of international competitions are being publicised.

WXV has proved to be a notoriously difficult competition for commentators, writers, followers of the game and even players and coaches to get their minds around. The misleading and confusing statements made during last year’s WXV1 about whether or not Wales would automatically play in WXV1 this year was a case in point.

The answer, of course, was “no”. The principle behind WXV has always been that teams re-qualify each year based on their final positions in the various regional championships worldwide. Wales will need to finish in the top three of the 2024 W6N to play in the 2024 WXV1.

So it has come as a major surprise to everyone we have spoken to in recent days to find that there is an exception to this principle.

One team will automatically get a place in WXV next year regardless of where they finish in their regional championship. That team will be the winner of the WXV3 playoff between Netherlands and Colombia next month. Essentially the playoff will be a “qualifier” in its own right, of equal standing with the Six Nations, European Championship or African Division 1.

This exception has never been publicised in any public document issued by WXV (that we can trace), but was included in messages sent to teams recently.

On the one hand this is understandable. Why would the Netherlands take part in a game if their victory would only guarantee a place to a European team in WXV3, and not necessarily themselves? If they slipped up against Sweden or Portugal then their efforts would only win a WXV spot for their rivals.

So World Rugby have said that if Netherlands win they will take the new 8th European place regardless of where they end in the European Championship. And the same applies to Colombia.

But the knock-on from this is that all South American nations (other than Colombia) are already excluded from WXV because if Colombia beat Netherlands they will take the spot in the 2024 WXV3 regardless of the result of any regional playoff with Brazil.

It also creates a bizarre incentive to finish last in WXV3, beacause a team that finishes 6th and last get TWO chances to qualify for the following year's WXV - via the playoff (againsta team probably ranked below tham) AND via their regional championship. Whereas a team that finishes 1st-5th only gets ONE chance, via the regional championship.

Fortunately, the rules for WXV will be reviewed after this year’s competition - because in our opinion, while an understandable compromise, this rule is simply inconsistent and incompatible with the principles behind WXV. If World Rugby want a model for awarding places in WXV then we would suggest something like the “national co-efficient” calculations that UEFA uses for its football competitions. Quite simply the more successful a region is the more places it should get, with a baseline minimum of one per region.

This buried-in-the-small-print discovery is regrettably nothing new for competition like this.  The Sevens World Series (now SVNS) has repeatedly tinkered with the fine print over the years, with any changes given little or no publicity – at best the odd paragraph buried deep in a press release - leading to the confusion a week or so ago over the draw for the next round.

There is really no excuse for this. Every tournament must have a set of published rules – a tournament manual – that goes to teams and confederations so there is surely no reason that these cannot be published somewhere on the World Rugby website? With any amendments highlighted?

Without that there is just confusion, which benefits no-one, makes WXV and World Rugby look bad, and gives a poor impression for women's rugby as a game to its followers and potential new supporters.