Pools and Pots: The 2021 World Cup Draw Explained

It’s an inevitable part of rugby league’s growth that more attention will be paid to things like the draw for a World Cup. 

Even including last year’s event in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, many fans attended matches and watched on TV without knowing how teams were drawn against each other or how the quarter-finals worked.

For 2013 and 2017 tournaments, the system included what some termed “super pools”. Three teams each from two pools qualified for the final eight last year, with the winners of the other two pools also progressing.  

The super pools were intended to provide more high profile matches in the round robin stage of the World Cup. In 2008 there was an even more “super” pool, from which three teams qualified for the semi-finals.

In 2000 each group was seeded, England and Australia were placed together in one group to a ensure big-drawing early match but two from each of the four pools made the final eight.

In 1995, when Fiji, Western Samoa, South Africa and Tonga made their World Cup debuts, there were three pools. Australia and England were allowed to face off early in the same pool and both make the semis, where they met the winners of the other two groups.

In talking about World Cups in any sport, we often focus on pools. But in preparing for England 2021, the stage we’re at now involves “pots”, not pools.

The first pot are the four seeded nations - Australia, England, New Zealand and Tonga. All quarter-finalists for 2017 qualified automatically for 2021 meaning Samoa, PNG, Fiji and Lebanon are in pot two. 

The third pot will include qualifiers Wales, France and Jamaica along with the next highest ranking qualifier from Europe. Finally, pot four will be made up of the lowest ranked European qualifiers and the winners of the world play-off final that will feature the United States playing against the Cook Islands.

A team from pots two, three and four will be pulled out at random to form a group along with the seeded teams who will be pre allocated to their groups. So the opening game of the tournament will feature England, but this time not against the Australians.

It is anticipated that their opponents will come from pot two so that means Wayne Bennett’s men against Samoa, PNG, Fiji or Lebanon. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the knock-out stages unlike the qualification process for the last two tournaments.

RLWC2021 CEO Jon Dutton said: 

“It’s great to see the qualification process shape the structure of the tournament. We plan to hold a significant public event for the draw as the excitement builds towards the tournament”. 

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