With three teams ranked between 19th and 22nd place and another just outside the top 30 in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, the race to secure the final qualifier place for Rugby World Cup 2023 is wide open.
Based on history and the rankings, USA would appear to be favourites but Portugal are fast-emerging as a force in the Rugby Europe Championship under inspirational head coach Patrice Lagisquet.
Like Portugal, Kenya will look to utilise their strengths and play a high-tempo game with ball in hand, while Hong Kong will feel anything is possible after overcoming several obstacles to make it this far.
Here’s your essential guide to the Final Qualification Tournament.
When is the Final Qualification Tournament?
It takes place in Dubai from 6-18 November, 2022. The three matchdays are: Sunday 6 November, Saturday 12 November and Friday 18 November
What's the prize is at stake?
The team with the most competition points at the end of the round-robin tournament will claim the 20th and final ticket to Rugby World Cup 2023. A place in Pool C along with Wales, Australia, Georgia and Fiji awaits the winner.
How did they get this far?
Portugal were the first to book their place in the Final Qualification Tournament by securing third place in the Rugby Europe Championship 2021 and 2022 combined standings. Os Lobos were then joined by Kenya on 10 July after the Simbas finished as runners-up to Namibia in the Rugby Africa Cup 2022 in France.
USA find themselves in this position after missing out to Uruguay and Chile in the race for the Americas 1 and Americas 2 slots, while Asia Rugby Championship 2022 winners Hong Kong will try to bounce back from their 44-22 defeat against Tonga on Saturday, 23 July to qualify for the first time and complete the RWC 2023 line-up.
Where are the teams positioned in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini?
USA are the highest-ranked team in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini in 19th, although they are only one place better off than their worst-ever position. Leading into the last Rugby World Cup, the Eagles had soared to the dizzy heights of 13th.
Portugal are the side immediately below USA, in 20th position, while Hong Kong are two places further behind in 22nd. Kenya are the lowest ranked team in the Final Qualification Tournament in 33rd.
Which of the teams are in form?
Based purely on results, it would be hard to claim any of the teams are heading to Dubai with momentum behind them.
However, Portugal have caught the eye with some scintillating, attacking rugby. Os Lobos started the year by holding Georgia to a 25-25 draw, ending the Lelos’ 20-match winning run as a result. Only the Netherlands have been beaten in their five fixtures since then but plenty of positives can be drawn from defeats to Romania (37-27), Spain (33-28), Italy (38-31), Argentina XV (52-35) and Georgia (23-14). Os Lobos are averaging 31 points per game in 2022.
USA have won only three of their 10 fixtures since Rugby World Cup 2019: Chile (22-21), Uruguay (19-16) and Canada (38-16). After qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2019 as Americas 1, the last four-year cycle has been a disappointing one.
For Hong Kong and Kenya, the formbook is hardly extensive. Hong Kong have played just two matches in the last three years, beating Korea to win Asia Rugby Championship 2022 before losing the Asia/Pacific 1 play-off against Tonga. Meanwhile, Kenya chalked up victories over Uganda (42-7) and Algeria (36-33) before losing the final of the Rugby Africa Cup 2022, 36-0 to Namibia.
Any memorable match-ups?
While they are familiar opponents on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the Final Qualification Tournament will stage the first-ever meeting between USA and Kenya at this level.
By contrast, USA and Hong Kong have met seven times before, making it the most common fixture at the Final Qualification Tournament, with the Asian champions leading 4-3 in the head-to-head.
To qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023, Portugal will have to make history as they have never beaten any of their opponents before. Os Lobos have lost to USA twice but not since 2010, and in 2015 they were beaten 41-15 by Kenya and 16-13 by Hong Kong.
Have any of the teams competed at a Rugby World Cup before?
USA have the richest Rugby World Cup pedigree having competed in every tournament bar one – South Africa in 1995. The Eagles comfortably beat Spain the only previous time they played in the ‘repechage’, qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2003 after a 120-26 aggregate win.
Portugal are the only team of the other three to have appeared on the game’s grandest stage before – at Rugby World Cup 2007 – and will be hoping to book a return to France, where they will enjoy the support of a large ex-pat community.
What happened at the last Final Qualification Tournament?
Kenya and Hong Kong made it to the last Final Qualification Tournament, held in Marseille in November 2018, where they were joined by Canada and Germany.
Kenya lost all three games by an average margin of 36 points and were Hong Kong’s only victims. Canada won all three of their games to win the tournament and qualify for Rugby World Cup 2019.