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Sunday, May 24, 2009

World Cup: Scotland qualify - and why are Italy in the Six Nations?

After the excitements earlier in the week, the final day of the European Qualifier went more or less to form. 

The only outstanding question - whether Scotland or Netherlands would take the final qualification place - was answered firmly in favour of the Scots. They were never behind at any stage and extended a 17-11 half-time lead to a decisive 38-18 victory. Its the first time since 2005 (or 37 internationals) that Scotland have managed to record three consecutive wins, and might just stir them to improve on their recent lamentable performances. Even so they still face an uphill task to match the sixth place they have recorded at the last three World Cups. 

Sweden meanwhile completed the best week in their rugby history with a comprehensive 38-6 win over Germany - their best ever win over one of the biggest international rivals - to ensure a 100% record for their qualification. Simply being at the World Cup is a triumph for the Swedes - and they could cause problems for several of the other teams. It is certainly unlikley that any other nation will be better prepared.

This gives us the following teams [in likely seeding order] for the tournament, which will start on 20th August 2010 with the final on 5th September:
  1. New Zealand (automatic qualifier - holders)
  2. England (automatic qualifier - hosts)
  3. France (automatic qualifier - 3rd, 2006)
  4. Canada (automatic qualifier - 4th, 2006)
  5. USA (N America no. 2)
  6. Wales (Six Nations no. 2)
  7. Ireland (Six Nations no. 3)
  8. Australia or Samoa (play-off later this year)
  9. Scotland (European qualifier no. 5)
  10. Sweden (European qualifier no. 6)
  11. Asian qualifier (tournament later this year)
  12. South Africa (African representative)
Elsewhere Russia and Belgium were playing for pride - both had both failed to score any points in their opening games, but both got on the scoreboard this time - Russia winning 29-11. 

However, the final game of the tournament - though now irrelevent for the world cup - had a lot riding on it. For the first time since being thrown out of the Six Nations, Spain faced the team that had replaced them - Italy - and the Spanish maintained their 100% record in the fixture, running out 12-7 winners.

Which begs the big question - why the heck are Italy in the Six Nations? When it comes to the men's game it is understandable as the Italians are unquestionably in Europe's top 6 - but why on earth should that have the remotest bearing on make-up of the women's tournament? Italy's women are now no better than 9th in Europe - based on last week not only Spain, but Sweden and Netherlands would rank ahead of them - and their performances in the Six Nations since they joined have been pretty underwhelming with only one win from 18 internationals.

It probably "aids development" of women's rugby in Italy - but only at the expense of the game in Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, etc. - so that is hardly an explanation. Truth is that their status is only and entirely due to the women's game's second class status in the world of rugby (or should it be lower than that?). Can you imagine - say - Canada being given a high ranking at the 2011 men's world cup because their women's team is so good? So why do Italy's women get favoured status just because their men are ranked highly?

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