Organisers of the men’s 2031 Rugby World Cup are considering proposals to expand the tournament to 24 teams and bring in an additional knockout stage.
The United States is expected to be confirmed as host of the men’s 2031 World Cup on Thursday — alongside the 2033 women’s Rugby World Cup — and organisers are looking at options to bring in a round of 16 stage to the men’s tournament and expanding it from 20 to 24 teams across six pools.
“We’ve made it very clear from the start that we want to explore 24 teams,” USA Rugby CEO Ross Young told ESPN. “We want to explore rounds of 16 if need be. And we want to explore the tournament window.”
Sources have told ESPN World Rugby is aware of the mooted plan but says no firm discussions have yet been held over expanding the World Cup.
The change would be a significant shift from the current structure which sees 20 teams play across four pools — a format where one team sits out each round of fixtures. In the past, this structure has raised concerns over teams getting preferable schedules as some have rounds midway through the pool stage, while others play their four matches back-to-back without a rest.
The new structure, which organisers of the 2031 tournaments are weighing up, would see four groups of six teams where the top two teams qualify for the round of 16, alongside the four best placed third ranking sides.
Another change could be when the competition is played in the year. The tournament window sees the competition run across October and November. But as the U.S. bid features several prospective NFL stadia, the two timescales would clash. The organisers hope there’ll be a general willing to address this, but sources told ESPN World Rugby is keen for it to stay in the current window.
For U.S. Rugby World Cup bid chair Jim Brown, he has no concerns over adding an extra knockout round to the World Cup. “We have enough people from every country in the world probably in the United States to fill a stadium, so we’re not too concerned with the adding four teams, like some people would be,” Brown told ESPN.
“But I think the point is, if you go to 24 teams, every team plays every round. So the tournament remains at a six-week tournament.
“We’ve presented that without strong opinion one way or the other. But certainly there’s commercial work shows that it’s more financially viable, and also, perhaps something to be considered for the future for not just the United States, but everywhere.”
Source : ESPN.com