The men’s tournament features 20 teams who, since Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2003, have been split into four pools of five teams (A, B, C and D) with the top two teams after the 40 pool matches progressing to the quarter-finals. The winners of each pool face a runner-up from another pool in the quarter-finals with the winners progressing to the semi-finals. The two semi-final winners contest the final for the right to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, while the losing teams meet in the bronze final.
The women’s event features 12 teams drawn into three pools of four (A, B and C) and previously the three pool winners and best runner-up have progressed to the semi-finals after the 18 pool matches. However, RWC 2021 will see the return of a quarter-final stage with the top two teams in each pool and the best two third-placed sides progressing to the knockout phase. These teams will be seeded to determine the quarter-final match-ups with the winners progressing to the semi-finals. The two semi-final winners will contest the final, while the losing teams meet in the bronze final.
There are 48 matches played over seven weeks in a men’s Rugby World Cup and 26 matches in the women’s Rugby World Cup with the addition of a quarter-final stage increasing the length of the tournament in 2022 from 23 to 35 days.
World Rugby announced on 30 November, 2020 that the women’s edition of Rugby World Cup will expand from 12 to 16 teams from 2025 onwards, reflecting the governing body’s commitment to accelerating the growth of the women’s game globally.