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Last Updated:  Monday, 21 October, 2002, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Two-tier World Cup plan explained
England's plan for a two-tier Rugby World Cup is designed to open the event up to more countries while at the same time cutting out the "mismatches" of previous tournaments.

And make more money for all concerned.

Under the controversial proposals, two tournaments would run side-by-side - increasing the number of nations taking part from 20 to 36.

Only 16 elite teams would play in the main competition, which would feature eight fewer games than are played under the current 20-team format.

Major changes
Reduction in the number of teams from 20 to 16
Revised second phase for the knockout rounds to include a Super 8 stage that will replace the traditional quarter-finals
Introduction of a second tournament for 20 teams to run in parallel with the main competition
The rest would compete in a secondary competition, the Rugby World Nations Cup, an expanded 20-team competition run alongside the main competition using the current RWC format.

First-round losers in the the main event would drop down to the secondary competition.

Its winners would earn qualification for the World Cup in 2011.

The format is designed to:

  • increase the number of big matches
  • include more rugby-playing nations
  • cut down on the mismatches which have been an annoying - and unprofitable - feature of previous World Cups

More big matches

A new "Super Eight" pool phase would replace the existing quarter-finals, creating more showdowns between big guns such as England, France, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

"To win the World Cup, the champion nation will have to have played five of the top eight sides," says RFU chief executive Francis Baron.

The Super Eight round would see the top two teams in each of the four opening phase groups move on to two further pools of four.

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The teams would carry forward the points they earned against the other qualifier from their pool and then play the winner and runner-up of the opening phase group they are paired with.

The top two from each group then go through to a knockout semi-final.

If such a format was applied to the 2003 World Cup, England and South Africa could face New Zealand and Wales in the Super Eight round, with the group winners and runners-up going into the semis.

Who would qualify?
All eight quarter-finalists from RWC 2003
Top two ranked countries who were not quarter-finalists
Six teams to qualify from the existing IRB regional tournaments in 2005/2006

The idea is to create more matches that spectators will want to watch - or, just as importantly, more matches that they will be prepared to pay to watch.

As RFU operations director Terry Burwell puts it: "Super Eight is the financial engine for the benefits we will be delivering."

While a 16-team competition would reduce the total number of matches played in the main event, introducing a Super Eight phase would increase the proportion of matches between the top teams from 31% to 45%.

More countries overall

The RFU say the current 20-team structure is unwieldy.

The five-pools-of-four structure used at Wales '99 required a complicated qualification procedure to determine the quarter-finalists.

And the four-pools-of-five formula for Australia this summer is likely to create more one-sided fixtures in the group phase.

Baron said: "We believe 2003 will almost certainly exhaust the development possibilities of the current 20-team format.

"Simply increasing the number of teams is not a commercial option.

"It would simply create more non-competitive games which would not be attractive to either supporters or commercial partners."

The RFU believe their two-tier proposal will solve these problems of numbers and mismatches while opening up participation to a wider number of nations.

"I think that when the IRB have had a chance to study the proposals in detail, they will see the very great advantages available for the development of the global game," Baron said.

And he added: "Most countries will realise we are going to generate a lot more revenue. You don't have to be an accountant to see that."

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