Here’s a look at Tables, Aims, Coaches, Promotion-Relegation and Points
This is the finishing order of the three levels:
One thing is certain: nobody got anywhere close to guessing that order correctly. I finished near the bottom of the class. Very few competitors had entered as obvious winners or losers.
Points of Interest:
Such a compressed tournament (only three games each) ensured unpredictability.
The three trophy winners all come from the British Isles. Apart from them, only Italy finished unbeaten. WXV2 had much the tightest, most dramatic finish. Just what the doctor ordered.
WXV1’s table shows the most striking results. My feeble predictions were correct only with the first and sixth of the sextet.
The further down the tiers we go, the wider the gaps in the world rankings. So for the minnows this was a voyage of discovery, and all the better for that. We’ll never know what each of the coaching staffs really expected, but all of them could hope for increased support from their respective unions when they came home.
A central purpose of WXV was to help nations towards the next World Cup, especially since it was being extended to sixteen Nations. So managements had twin strategies to sort out: balancing the two big events against each other. Could they afford setbacks in WXV for the greater good of triumph at the 2025 RWC?
That would apply to player-choice: if and when to discard senior players, how many new faces to introduce as a part of long-term thinking?
Mignot and Ortiz of France were two of the coaches to stress a long-term view. Is one win out of three an adequate springboard for future success? Well, it was against the hosts! The pair gave youth its chance. There is so much talent coming through the French system (Lina Queyroi, Assia Khalfaoui and Morgane Bourgeois, to name but three) that their strategy may yet prove valid.
In WXV1 the managements of sides finishing well below expectations have some hard thinking to do. Not one of the six has been long in post; each brought a different set of skills to the programme. Gaëlle Mignot, for example, had intimate knowledge of RWCs and 6Ns as a player; Allan Bunting was a Sevens expert, but like some others, had no previous experience of coaching women’s 15s rugby.
Bunting won’t be feeling satisfied after this first outing with the once all-conquering Black Ferns. There were moments in that final joust with the English that recalled the unhappy European tour of 2021.
One ongoing need is to organise more test matches against worthy opposition. But there are only two sides to come into consideration, England and France. The RFU is flagging a contest at Twickenham.
Of the successful coaches, Jay Tregonning had already announced that he would return to his profession of teaching once this year’s WXV was completed. That means we can expect a new head coach of the Wallaroos in the near future.
One interesting development is the time at which replacements are brought in. Apart from unavoidable adjustments (injury, HIA, card), they seem to be coming earlier, around the 50-minute mark, not the more usual 60-minute. It means coaches are willing to take the increased risk of a replacement getting injured. To the onlooker it seems as though the coaching team has spotted a weakness that has to be put right straightaway, whatever the consequences.
How will the eighteen unions react to the results? We must hope with restraint and understanding. The whole set-up was so new that precipitate reaction would be out of place.
There were far too few female head coaches for WR’s liking.
We are very used to this system, but mostly in leagues of many competing teams. In WXV they are reduced to just six, so there can be little sense of security for the nations sitting near the tail of this year’s WXV pools.
It’s possible it would have benefited Wales more if they had been consigned to WXV2. That was Scotland’s disappointment, but now they are radiant.
To take the nations finishing 5th and 6th in the two lower tiers (USA, Samoa, Kazakhstan and Colombia): we are left wondering what effect a relegation next year would have of their longer- term prospects. The differences between the four could scarcely be more marked, in geography, size, wealth and so on. WR’s support, guaranteed in the opening statement about WXV, can only go so far. Youngsters are attracted to a sport that is successful and opens wider horizons.
The two extreme results of the whole tournamment were the defeats of Kazakhstan: 118-0 by Fiji and 109-0 by Ireland. The organisers will draw their own conclusions. They could extend from relief that there weren’t more outsize wins (so many nations given a chance at global level that wide margins were all too possible) to being concerned about the effect it will have on the losers; not merely the players themselves, but their national unions and the governments that need to be reassured any subsidies they offer are worth the expense.
A glance at the nations on the outside: a team sitting close to qualification for WXV3, like the Netherlands, might come as close as losing a play-off with the team finishing sixth in that tier – oh, so close! – but failing to qualify for that play-off the following year.
What effect will that frustration have?
At the moment the outlook is bright. News percolates in of nations starting to play test matches and gaining new players in the process. Can that upward trend be maintained if promotion doesn’t come quickly? Or will WR consider extending the whole WXV structure as it develops?
The Six Nations and the RWC boards have long resisted enlarging their membership, though the next RWC has at last been increased to sixteen nations.
But it’s hard to imagine WXV growing any larger. Eighteen nations and 540 players need a lot of organising.
Points mean Position
One major criticism of the WXV structure concerns the way the league positions are sorted. Wins of course come first, but the second tie-breaker is (on-field) points difference. That could be mighty unfair, since the team finishing bottom of the six would be easy meat for the opponents lucky enough to face them.
Once again, the restriction of the tournament to three matches each lent extra importance to this ruling. Perhaps France and New Zealand can take solace from that.
Overall the venture was a great success. From now on it will mark a central part of the annual calendar; every participating nation will have felt its benefits. But WXV is a massive operation and WR has to ensure that it doesn’t collapse under its own weight.