We give you the dirt on the teams vying for the 20th and final spot in France 2023 at the Final Qualification Tournament, examining how the United States, Portugal, Hong Kong, and Kenya reached this point and their performance en route to Dubai.
For a two-week journey, Hong Kong, Kenya, Portugal, and the USA have landed in Dubai in the hopes that it can serve as a stopover on the way to the Rugby World Cup 2023.
The round-robin RWC 2023 Final Qualification Tournament will begin on Sunday and go until November 18 with the four teams taking the field at The Sevens Stadium.
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The team in first place in the standings will be awarded the 20th and final ticket to France following the three match days in the UAE.
Which teams, however, are in top form going into the Final Qualification Tournament, and which have the most Rugby World Cup experience? We provide you with information on each of the contending countries.
RUGBY WORLD CUP PEDIGREE
Since the 1995 competition, Hong Kong has tried to qualify for a Rugby World Cup, but they have so far been unable to do so and secure a spot at the championship game.
However, it was a loss to Chinese Taipei in the RWC 2003 qualifying campaign that cost them dearly. In the early years, their growth was frequently halted by Japan, the dominant team in Asia.
In the repechage for the RWC 2015, Hong Kong’s interest was ended when they fell to Uruguay, and in the round-robin event for the RWC 2019, they failed, placing second-to-last in the four-team competition in Marseilles.
Similar to Hong Kong, Kenya made an attempt to qualify for the RWC 1995, but losses to Zimbabwe and Namibia terminated their chances before a victory over the Arabian Gulf.
The Simbas have participated in the qualifying rounds for every Rugby World Cup since, but they have not yet advanced to the main competition.
After overcoming Namibia and putting themselves in an excellent position to qualify for the 2015 RWC, Kenya narrowly missed out on both a trip to England and a spot in the playoffs due to a loss to Zimbabwe.
Four years later, their final qualifying match loss to Namibia prevented them from directly qualifying for the 2019 RWC. Despite having done enough to qualify for the second round, they fell to Canada, Hong Kong, and Germany in all three of their games in Marseille.
Portugal has only participated in one Rugby World Cup, which took place in France in 2007.
Then, Os Lobos waited until the very last second to defeat Uruguay on the road to qualifying.
Os Lobos lost to their South American opponents 18-12 in the return match in Montevideo, but as a result of their 12-5 triumph over Los Teros in the first leg in Lisbon, they were able to come out on top 24-23.
The outcome atoned for Portugal’s severe setback to Uruguay in the Repechage matchup in 1999.
Portugal earned a spot in Pool C for the actual event, where they will play New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, and Romania.
In front of a sizable Portuguese crowd in St. Etienne, Portugal lost against Scotland 56-10 to start their tournament, with winger Pedro Cabral scoring their first-ever Rugby World Cup try.
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A less motivated team might have fallen apart after losing 108-13 to New Zealand in their second match, but Os Lobos finished the competition strongly with a respectable 31-5 loss to Italy and then in a tight game against Romania, the Oaks prevailed 14-10 but only after scoring two converted tries in the fourth quarter.
Portugal achieved their goal of scoring at least one try in every game by finishing their first Rugby World Cup campaign beaten in every game but unbeaten.
With the exception of RWC 1995, the USA has played in every tournament, making them the team with the most Rugby World Cup experience entering the Final Qualification Tournament.
On May 24, 1987, at Ballymore in Brisbane, Australia, they made their Rugby World Cup debut by defeating Japan 21-18 after a late comeback.
They then suffered losses to Australia and England, and it took them 16 years to record their second tournament victory.
That triumph came in 2003 when the competition returned to Australia after winless pool phase exits at RWC 1991 and RWC 1999. At Central Coast Stadium, the USA ran in five tries to defeat Japan once more, winning 39-26.
Since that night in Gosford, the USA has only triumphed in one Rugby World Cup match, a 13-6 victory over Russia at RWC 2011, which was also played in the southern hemisphere, with Mike Petri scoring the only try of the game.
On the grandest stage, the USA has thus far struggled to go past the quarterfinals, but on their most recent Rugby World Cup appearance, they came close to winning the event for the fourth time.
The Eagles led Tonga 12-7 at halftime of their final Pool C encounter of the 2019 RWC thanks to two tries from Mike Te’o.
Tonga, on the other hand, outscored the USA three tries to one in the second half to win 31-19 and send the USA’s opponents home after just one win in four Rugby World Cup appearances.
WORLD RANKINGS SINCE LAST RUGBY WORLD CUP
Even though they have only participated in four tests since Japan in 2019, Hong Kong has managed to move up two spots in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.
Hong Kong was ranked in 24th place with 59.65 points back in November 2019, but they are now 22nd with two positions and 1.38 points higher (61.03 points).
If Hong Kong defeats Portugal in their opening match at the Final Qualification Tournament, they will be within reach of a spot in the top 20 in the world.
Since the last Rugby World Cup, Kenya has only played seven tests, winning four of them, but they have dropped one spot in the standings.
At the beginning of November 2019, the Simbas were placed 32nd with 52.55 points. Three years later, they are now ranked 33rd with 52.06.
If Kenya wins their first match against the United States this weekend, they could move up as many as five spots.
It is hardly surprising that Os Lobos have improved in the rankings during the current Rugby World Cup cycle, which is seen as a moment of triumph for Portugal.
Even though moving up one spot to 20th may not seem like much of an acceleration, the rating score’s increase from 61.34 to 65.08 tells you everything you need to know about the direction they are moving in.
Regarding the upcoming weekend, regardless of how the Eagles perform in their first game against lower-ranked Kenya, Portugal will overtake the USA in 19th if they defeat Hong Kong.
The USA has been through a transition during the last three years, which is reflected by the team’s minor decline in the rankings.
The Eagles were rated 17th with 68.10 points after the conclusion of RWC 2019, however they have since dropped two spots to 19th and almost three rating points, entering the Final Qualification Tournament with a score of 65.17.
As they cannot improve their score against Kenya due to the 13.11 point discrepancy between the two countries, USA may fall further in the rankings this weekend.
Hong Kong has very limited test rugby history entering the Final Qualification Tournament.
Hong Kong has only played on the field four times since the last Rugby World Cup ended, winning two and losing two of those games.
Hong Kong gained some new experiences during a European tour at the end of 2019 when they played Belgium and Spain away for the first time.
The team had a 36-17 victory in Brussels before losing to Los Leones 29-7, but things seemed to be going well for them until COVID-19 struck.
Because to travel limitations, Hong Kong’s 15s test rugby was suspended for two and a half years. Then, due to the financial effects of the global pandemic, the program’s status was changed from a full-time to a part-time one.
However, Hong Kong made a triumphant return, defeating Korea 23-21 in Incheon thanks to a last-second penalty kick. As a result, Hong Kong was guaranteed a spot in the Asia-Pacific Qualifier and the opportunity to win a direct flight to France in 2023.
The ‘Ikale Tahi won the match against Tonga 44–22 on neutral Australian soil, as most observers had predicted they would.
However, Hong Kong’s performance, particularly in the match’s closing moments, gives them reason for confidence and something to work on going into the Final Qualification Tournament for a team that had so little time to prepare behind them under a new head coach.
Kenya enters the Final Qualification Tournament in decent shape, having only lost twice in their previous six games, both times to Namibia.
The Simbas did not play on the field between September 2019 and July 2021 as a result of the pandemic’s effects.
When Kenya did return to the field to begin their RWC 2023 qualifying campaign, Senegal humiliated them 20-19, and Kenya gave up the game-winning converted try in the waning seconds.
Kenya bounced back to defeat Zambia 45-8 and restart their qualification campaign. They finished the year with a training camp in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
While there, the Simbas played Namibia and Brazil. In their first encounter, although they were ahead 24-19 at the half against their African opponents, they fell down 60-24 as their opponents scored seven tries after the break.
Once more, the Simbas bounced back, and six days later, they scored five tries to defeat Brazil 36-30 at Markötter Stadium in a 66-point thriller.
Kenya defeated Algeria and Uganda in July’s Rugby Africa Cup 2022 in France to advance to a winner-take-all match against Namibia. However, a 36-0 loss in Aix-en-Provence put an end to the Simbas’ aspirations of securing straight qualification to RWC 2023.
Portugal qualified for Dubai by placing third overall in the Rugby Europe Championship standings for 2021 and 202.
Os Lobos’ 25-25 draw with Georgia in Tbilisi marked the beginning of the second half of the qualification campaign’s high point; nonetheless, results, though not performances, declined as the year went on.
Their chances for automatic qualification were dashed after a key 37-27 loss to Romania in Bucharest, but a match against the struggling Netherlands got them back on track as Os Lobos won 59-3.
Then came the stretch of four losses leading up to the Final Qualification Tournament, though three of them were against teams who were rated higher.
Portugal’s Rugby Europe Championship campaign came to a disappointing conclusion after Spain defeated them 33-28 in Madrid.
The Italian team visited Portugal after their Six Nations triumph over Wales, and although coming out on the losing end of the scoreboard this time (38–31), Portugal lost.
Following their comeback from a halftime disadvantage, the South Americans fell to an Argentina XV 52-35.
Additionally, Portugal forced their opponents Georgia work hard in their most recent match in Kutaisi in July to win 23-14.
The USA would have advanced to the RWC 2023 and would have been preparing for matches against England, Japan, Argentina, and Samoa in Pool D had it not been for Santiago Videla’s last-second penalty in Glendale.
They had won the first leg of their Americas 2 play-off against Chile 22-21 in Santiago, and they appeared to have done all the hard work because they were up going into the final 10 minutes of the second.
Sport, however, involves razor-thin margins, and the USA’s performance since the RWC 2019 has been at best patchy.
When the squad resumed play in July 2021, they suffered crushing losses to England and Ireland but kept their hopes of winning a trip to France alive with a 59-50 aggregate victory over longtime rivals Canada.
The victory enabled a two-leg Americas 1 play-off against Uruguay. However, after winning 19-16 at home, Uruguay lost 34-15 in Montevideo, dropping the tie 50-34 overall.
After losing to the All Blacks 104-14 in Washington, Eagles supporters had a reason for optimism after Houston’s 26-21 victory over the French Barbarians.
That was put out at Infinity Park by a kick from Videla, and the USA now travels to Dubai having won only three of their nine tests since Japan.
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