Tier 2 teams get better schedule for 2019 Rugby World Cup

When Japan and Scotland were drawn in the same 2019 Rugby World Cup pool in May, there were gasps in the crowd in Kyoto.

The draw was considered good karma. Japan would have a shot at revenge, on home soil.

Japan’s loss to Scotland in the 2015 tournament cost the side a first quarterfinal. But Japan was set up to fail. The Scotland game was only four days after Japan beat South Africa 34-32 in one of sport’s greatest upsets.

Japan’s rugby players Ayumu Goromaru, left, and Kensuke Hatakeyama look at the Webb Ellis Cup during the match schedule announcement for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, in Tokyo Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. Rugby World Cup organizers announced the match schedule for the Sept. 20-Nov. 2 tournament on Thursday, exactly two years out from the tournament final in Yokohama, near Tokyo. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

After falling to the fresh Scots 45-10, Japan went on to beat Manu Samoa and the United States Eagles and be the first team to win three out of four pool matches and not advance.

While the match scheduling in 2015 was an improvement on 2011, it was still hard on many.

Not enough of a recovery period was given to teams, notably the tier twos, who appeared to be mere fodder for the stronger and deeper tier ones: Fiji played Australia five days after England; Tonga had three games in 10 days and was heavily beaten in the last two; Romania played France and Ireland within four days; Namibia played Argentina four days after Canada; Uruguay played England four days after Fiji.

At the schedule release this week in Tokyo, World Rugby said it fixed the problem for the first Rugby World Cup in a tier two nation.

“The schedule has been developed following team feedback post Rugby World Cup 2015 with an equitable match schedule a core principle,” World Rugby said. “(There is) a significant improvement achieved within the framework of a four-pool, five-teams-per-pool format. No tier two team plays a tier one team following a short rest period.”

The proof is in the pudding. Most teams that have a four-day turnaround are tier ones, who have the squad depth to handle it.

England and France will each meet Tonga and the U.S. in four-day spans. France then plays England in the possible Pool C decider on a six-day rest. England will have an extra day.

“If you were doing the ideal world and wanted to set it up, that’s how you’d want it,” England coach Eddie Jones said of their draw. “So we have no excuses.”

Fiji and Georgia, who will have high hopes of making the quarterfinals, have it tough in Pool D. Georgia will be on a four-day turnaround when it plays Fiji.

Fiji then has six days to recover to play Wales, which will have had a 10-day rest for their matchup in a fourth consecutive Rugby World Cup. Fiji famously beat Wales in 2007 and ran them close in 2015.

Wales coach Warren Gatland acknowledged it was a good draw: “We have a good block of time before facing Fiji in Oita.”

Defending champion New Zealand, which has never lost a pool game, and Italy will play qualifiers within four days. The U.S. will face Argentina and then Tonga four days later to close Pool C.

As for Japan and Scotland, Japan parlayed home advantage into a favorable draw. If the Pool A match in Yokohama is a quarterfinal decider, the Scots will be playing four days after meeting a qualifier.

Japan will have had an eight-day break.

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