2009: Four nations qualify for RWC 2011
We take a look back at the last 12 months of Rugby World Cup 2011 qualifying action which has seen four nations secure their passage to New Zealand.
The two-year countdown to Rugby World Cup 2011 may have begun on 9 September, but the qualification road began more than 18 months ago and has now seen four nations - Canada, Samoa, USA and Namibia - emerge from this global qualification process and confirm their place at the seventh edition of the showpiece in New Zealand.
Canada had the honour of becoming the first to join the 12 automatic qualifiers from Rugby World Cup 2007 - beating Samoa by a week - after defeating USA 41-18 to easily overhaul a six-point deficit from their first leg to qualify as Americas 1 and join hosts New Zealand, France, Tonga and the as yet unknown Asian representative in Pool A.
The Eagles had marked Independence Day with a 12-6 victory in Charleston, fly half Mike Hercus kicking their points. However, a week later, Canada were on a mission to "put things right" in the words of coach Kieran Crowley and ran in six tries to mark prop Kevin Tkachuk's 50th Test in style before a crowd of around 5,000.
USA's cause was not helped by centre Paul Emerick's red card in the 27th minute and they were left to regroup to face Uruguay in a home and away play-off in November with the winner qualifying as Americas 2 - slotting into Pool C with Australia, Ireland, Italy and Europe 2 - and the loser advancing to next year's final place play-off.
Uruguay lay in wait after recording convincing victories over Brazil and Chile in the South American Championship in late April-early May. Los Teros, seeking to make a third RWC appearance, made home advantage count to beat Brazil 71-3 and then a youthful Chile side 46-9. The defeat - allied to a 79-3 loss against Chile - ended Brazil's qualifying adventure which had begun 11 months earlier.
First pool line up complete
The first leg took place in Montevideo on 14 November with a 13-point haul by young Teros full back Jerómino Etcheverry in the last six minutes ensuring his side would travel to Florida a week later trailing the Eagles by only five points following a 27-22 loss.
However, Uruguay's hopes of avoiding the cross-continental play-off - having missed out by a single point on aggregate to Portugal in the Répechage for the final place at RWC 2007 - were quashed as USA captain Todd Clever scored two tries in the second half to help his side to a 27-6 win.
While the Americas qualifying process had been the first to begin - only six months after Springbok captain John Smit lifted the Webb Ellis Cup at the Stade de France - by contrast Oceania was the last to get underway on 27 June when Papua New Guinea overwhelmed Vanuatu 86-12 in the West division of the Oceania Cup, to set up a final against Cook Islands, the 29-7 conquerors of Niue in the East division.
The 'prize' awaiting the Oceania Cup winner was a home and away play-off with Samoa, one the PNG Pukpuks claimed with a 29-21 victory in Port Moresby. Samoa were overwhelming favourites to join South Africa, Wales, Fiji and Africa 1 in Pool D and showed just why, running in 17 tries - four of them by Esera Lauina - to win the first leg 115-7 in Apia. A week later it was slightly closer, Samoa triumphing 73-12 with Mikaele Pesamino grabbing a hat-trick.
Kees Lensing led Namibia to their fourth Rugby World Cup with victories over Tunisia
The most recent qualifiers are Namibia, who take their place in the Pool D alongside defending champions South Africa, Wales, Fiji and Samoa as the African qualifier after beating Tunisia home and away in November. The home side had always won the fixtures between the rivals, until Namibia triumphed 18-13 in the first leg in Tunis. A fortnight later in Windhoek, Namibia turned around a slender half time deficit to win 22-10 and qualify for a fourth successive World Cup.
Back in June, Namibia had enjoyed contrasting fortunes in their semi final with Ivory Coast, drawing the first leg 13-13 and then winning 54-14 on home soil. Tunisia's passage was somewhat easier, having beaten Uganda 41-17 away and then 38-13 in Tunis to keep alive their dreams of qualifying for a first ever World Cup and becoming the continent's fifth nation to grace the stage. Tunisia can still qualify, but must negotiate the cross-continental play-off to do so.
All of which leaves only four places still remaining at Rugby World Cup 2011. The next two qualifiers will come from Europe in late March 2010, potentially two months before the HSBC Asian Five Nations determines that region's representative, leaving only the cross-continental play-off winner to determine the 20th and final qualifier.
Dream still alive in Europe and Asia
The top two sides in the European Nations Cup, which concludes with a new condensed programme during the Six Nations window, will qualify directly as Europe 1 and Europe 2. Defending champions Georgia - the only unbeaten side - and Russia occupy those positions at the halfway stage, albeit only just from Portugal, with Romania not yet out of the picture.
The third placed team in Europe can also still qualify but must negotiate a two-legged European play-off and then the cross-continental play-off, tackling Tunisia initially in the race to join Argentina, England, Scotland and Europe 1 in Pool B.
Three of the four rounds which will culminate in that European play-off have already taken place involving sides who topped their respective divisions at the halfway stage.
Israel, who play in Division 3C, upset Slovenia (3B) 26-19 in their country's first live televised rugby match, but then suffered a 19-3 defeat by Lithuania (3A) in Netanya. Lithuania themselves then caused a surprise, beating Division 2B's unbeaten side Netherlands 6-3 in Vilnius and now await the Division 2A winner in May.
The only other continent with a qualifying process still underway is Asia, where the dream of playing at RWC 2011 is still alive for five nations - Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Hong Kong and Arabian Gulf. The latter guaranteed their place in the Asian Five Nations Top 5 in 2010 - which will decide the Asia 1 qualifier - by winning Division I in April, beating Chinese Taipei 44-24 at 'The Sevens' in Dubai.
Japan will undoubtedly be favourites to remain Asia's only Rugby World Cup participant after cruising to the A5N crown the last two years under coach John Kirwan, but the battle for second - and entry into the cross-continental play-off - could prove interesting between Kazakhstan, Korea and Hong Kong. Kazakhstan finished second in 2009 but next year must crucially play these sides away.
RWC 2011 Pools
- Playoff Winner
- South Africa
- New Zealand