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24th Oct 2023

Rugby World Cup expands to 24 nations, with significant change to knock-out stages

Patrick McCarry

Rugby World Cup

Ireland could finally win a knock-out game, in 2027, and still not make it past the quarter finals…

World Rugby has announced that the 2027 World Cup will be expanded from 20 to 24 teams, with a new addition to the knock-out stages.

The new-look World Cup will take place in Australia in 2027 and have six pools of four teams. It means the pool stages are shortened by a week to accommodate the introduction of a ‘Last 16’.

Countries will reach the last 16 by finishing in the top two of the six pools, with the four best third place sides also making the cut. The changes were confirmed by World Rugby in Paris today (October 24) as well as the creation of a new Nations Cup and Challenger Series for the men’s game.

World Cup

Details on new-look World Cup

In their own press release, which blasts beyond hyperbole at certain junctures, the World Rugby Council is credited for approving an ‘historic reimagination of the competition format, window and timing’.

The 2027 World Cup will take place over six weeks (seven weekends) from October 1 to November 13. The release, in part, reads:

‘The new format will feature six pools of four teams, with a round of 16 added prior to the quarter-finals. This will enable the tournament window to be reduced from seven to six weeks, while promoting a rhythm that builds momentum across the pool phase and respects the same minimum number of rest days between matches as at France 2023.

‘A cornerstone of overall reform of the international calendar from 2026, this reimagination of Rugby World Cup has players and fans at heart, providing unions and international and domestic competitions with greater opportunity and certainty.’

RWC 2027 at a glance

  • Rugby World Cup 2027 will be hosted between 1 October and 13 November.
  • The tournament will be expanded from 20 to 24 teams.
  • New reduced six-week (seven-weekend) Rugby World Cup window approved – pool phase reduced from five to four weeks.
  • Round of 16 to be introduced with top two teams from each pool automatically qualifying along with the best four third-placed teams.
  • Details of the qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2027 will be determined following a full review of France 2023 and consultation with unions and regions.

In a move that Irish rugby fans will surely approve of, the council has supported plans to ‘undertake the pool stage draw as late as possible to best reflect global competitiveness’.

The draw for the 2023 World Cup took place in December 2020 but was based on world rankings from January 2020.

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “If we are to become a truly global sport, we must create greater relevance, opportunity and competitiveness to attract new fans and grow value.

“This incredible Rugby World Cup 2023 tournament has demonstrated the passion and potential that lies beyond the top 10 or 12 nations, if we think big and think inclusive. It is not acceptable to accept the status quo. Not acceptable to do nothing.”

Beaumont said the expansion was the ‘logical and the right thing to do’.


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