One of the long running competition design issues in world rugby has been the problem of competitive balance. The 2023 Rugby World Cup put this into full focus. With the competition set to increase to 24 countries in 2027 one has to wonder if this will add to the tournament.
Outcome uncertainty in the pool stages was very low. Here are some observations:
- Just 8 of the 40 pool games had a score (7 points) or less between the teams at full time.
- 25 (62.5%) pool games had a winning margin of 20 points or more.
- 10 pool games (25%) had a winning margin of more than 50 points.
- 5 pool games ended with one team failing to score.
- The average winning margin across all 40 pool games was almost 32 points.
The pool stage exceptions were probably Georgia versus Portugal which ended in a draw, Portugal's one point win over Fiji, England's win over Samoa and Ireland's 5 point win over South Africa.
The knock-out stages proved to be very different and were incredibly exciting and close in most game. The average winning margin was just over 8 points. This is largely driven by New Zealand's 38 point win over Argentina in the quarter finals.
If this is removed, the average winning margin from the remaining 7 games is just 4 points. Three of the games ended in the smallest possible winning margin - one point - all of which included South Africa.
Adding more teams is unlikely to improve the issues in the pool stages. Maybe World Rugby could take a leaf out of the Cricket World Cup which is also being held at the moment.
The number of teams at the tournament has actually declined since 2007. 16 became 14 which has become 10. This will increase to 14 again in 2027 but it demonstrates that reducing the number of teams competing is an option worth exploring.