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Rugby world cup repechage – new faces on the block

Is anyone else excited about the upcoming Rugby World Cup 2019 repechage qualifiers? I, for one, certainly am.

As rugby union positions itself as one of the biggest sports in the world, or tries to anyway, one of the best ways of doing this to make the game as much of an open shop as is possible.

The repechage tournament, to find the 20th and final spot in the line-up for next year’s RWC, is a chance to do just that.

Same old faces

When people think of rugby union, they tend to think of New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and the British countries.  Some might remember to cite football-mad Argentina, Italy and France, as well as the Pacific Island countries.

But either they forget or do not realise that rugby union is played in over 100 countries.

Rugby World Cup trophy coveted by the repechage teams

Those really in the know might think of rugby-mad enclaves such as Georgia, Romania, Namibia and even Madagascar.

But so far, same old, same old.

Which is why it is vital that new countries, especially those with large populations, join the rugby family.

In the Rugby World Cup repechage in Marseilles next month, four teams – Canada, Germany, Hong Kong and Kenya – will play a round-robin tournament for a spot at the top table. This will earn them an entry into Pool B at RWC 2019, alongside defending champions New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Namibia.

Oh, Canada

Of the four teams, the Canadians seem to have the edge, in experience at least, as they are the only ones to have played on the grand stage. In fact, they have played in every rugby world cup so far.

But with all due respect to the Canucks, I am hoping that this time one of the other three – Kenya, Hong Kong or Germany – get their chance through the Rugby World Cup repechage.

All three have been knocking at the door for some time, and getting through to their first RWC would mean many more new fans to the game than would be the case in Canada, whose performances have faded since their sole quarterfinal appearance, in 1991, and where rugby remains a minor, albeit solid, minor sport.

New boys in the Rugby World Cup repechage

Of course, rugby union would also remain a relatively minor sport in Germany, Hong Kong and Kenya. But in what country is football/soccer not the overwhelming, overbearing behemoth?

Kenya have long been crowd favourites and occasional powerhouses on the sevens circuit, and some familiar faces among their 7s stars – Willy Ambaka, Collins Injera, Nelson Oyoo and Samuel Oliech – are on hand to lend their experience and quality to the current 15s campaign.

The Simbas, as the Kenyan rugby team is known, would undeniably widen their popularity on the world rugby stage should they get to RWC 2019. Their qualification would also boost rugby in Africa outside the traditional strongholds of South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and will probably have a longer-lasting impact than the one made by Ivory Coast in 1995.

Also, Kenya is not a football powerhouse in Africa. And gaining a spot at the World Cup would undoubtedly strengthen rugby union’s foothold in the country.

Hong Kong has been a long-time rugby outpost in the Far East, being the home to the best sevens tournament in the world, and have been among Asia’s best teams over the past 30 years, running Japan close several times. With parent nation China being wooed to get deeper into rugby union, principally through sevens and the Olympics (an event China tends to prioritise), the entry of Hong Kong into the 15s World Cup would give added impetus to the efforts.

Germany were one of the surprises of the last RWC – and they weren’t even playing. What came as a revelation was the record viewing figures for the tournament: the tournament was shown live for the first time on free-to-air in Germany, and achieved a cumulative tournament audience of 6.4 million – an increase of 74 per cent from RWC 2007, the previous time the tournament was played in Europe.

In a country where rugby union is still a fringe sport, though one with quite a history – reportedly losing more national team players in World War II than any other country, and the sport being banned by the Nazis despite having Albert Speer as a big fan — this was quite a feat.

It could be time the Germans made rugby history again.

The RWC 2019 Repechage qualifiers will be played in Marseilles, France from 11 to 23 November.

Nov 11: HK vs Germany; Canada vs Kenya

Nov 17: HK vs Kenya; Canada, vs Germany

Nov 23: Kenya vs Germany; HK vs Canada.

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6 Comments

  1. Hi!

    This is a great post on what is going on in the RWC. Admittingly, I know very little about what is going on in the rugby circuits on an international level. I love the game though. When I think of rugby, I think of England, New Zealand, and Australia but they were a part of the union very early if I remember correctly. As you stated in your post, Canada seems to be one of the dominant countries in the rugby union but not really known for it. Do you have any idea why that is?Also, you mentioned Germany finally aired rugby on free television for the first time but were not directly playing at the last RWC tournament. That is such an interesting phenomenon considering they weren’t even one of the qualifying teams. Do you think the tournament got their notice because it was being held in England?This is a great update on what’s going on in rugby. I really enjoyed reading this and you’ve got me rooting for Kenya and Germany! Thanks!

    • Hi Tina, thanks for your feedback.

      Rugby has been a popular sport in Canada for a long time. One reason for this is that Canada has strong British and French historical links, and both countries are steeped in the sport. Also, I think Canadians love their sport very tough and rough (there are few sports as tough as ice hockey!) so rugby suits them perfectly. 

      But while it has been popular, it has always been small compared with ice hockey and gridiron, because until 1995 rugby was amateur so the only ones who played it were students and those who had a proper career to fall back on. But since the game went professional, more and more Canadians are earning their living in the game in Europe mainly, and some on the rugby sevens circuit.

      So while I too would love to see a newcomer make it through the repechage, I suspect Canada will be too strong and should qualify for their ninth straight Rugby World Cup.

      As for Germany and the TV viewership, yes, i think it was popular because of the proximity to England. Rugby has also always been popular in a fringe way in Germany and they were once one of the top two teams in Europe, back before WWII. But they lost the most internationals of any team in that war, and they never recovered; with soccer remaining unchallenged in that country.

  2. Quite an interesting job you are doing here.  I would have loved it if other countries of the world can be participants especially from Africa.  Be that as it may seeing the same old faces in every tournament isn’t much fascinating but then it will still be an entertaining event.  

    I love rugby and I’m always interested in tournaments especially word cups. 

    • Thanks, mate.

      At least 2 African teams have already qualified (Namibia and South Africa).  And there’s a chance for Kenya to qualify as they’re one of the 14 in the repechage.

      It was great when other African teams (Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe) also made it in the past.  But soccer’s very strong in Africa so rugby is losing out on some awesome natural talent in that region.

  3. Hi Shy,

    Thanks so much for sharing this… I had no idea that the 20th spot in the World Cup was being decided via a tournament! It’s interesting to see Kenya, Germany and Hong Kong in there… I had no idea that rugby was a sport in those countries. Canada has been on the fringes forever though. I’d personally like HK to get through…just because of the 7’s tournament they host!

    Cheers,

    Shane

    • Yep, the repechage has been held for the past few world cups.

      Also yes, the rugby world owes Hong Kong a debt for making 7s the success it is!

      Thanks for stopping by, mate.

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