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    The road to France

    The road to France


    (Rugby News Service) Sunday 24 June 2007
    By Karen Bond


    The road to France: Overview

    A record 86 nations from five continents took part in the qualifying process for Rugby World Cup 2007 with 191 matches held over 932 days to determine which 12 teams would join the eight automatic qualifiers in France.

    The first took place at the Molt Illustre Conseille General in Andorra la Vella, the capital city of the Principality located between France and Spain in the Pyrennes region, on 4 September 2004 with Andorra running out 76-3 winners over Norway.

    The final qualifier was some two years, six months and 21 days later at the Estadio Parque Central del Club Nacional in Montevideo, where the hosts suffered heartbreak as Portugal ran out 24-23 winners on aggregate despite Uruguay’s 18-12 win on 24 March.

    Europe's marathon race to France:

    The Rugby World Cup 2007 qualifying process kicked off in Andorra la Vella, the capital city of the Principality located between France and Spain in the Pyrenees region, on 4 September 2004 when Andorra ran out 76-3 winners over Norway.

    Andorra hooker Losif Tchelidze had the honour of scoring the first try in a match refereed by Andre Watson, the only man to take charge of two World Cup finals, against a side that had also played in the first qualifier for the 2003 tournament.

    This match – the first of 86 in the Europe zone involving 31 nations – formed one of four two-legged affairs in Round 1 with the winners progressing to the next stage to fill the one remaining place in each of the four Pools.

    Andorra then scored three tries in a 23-9 victory in Bergen – to go with the 12 in the first leg – to triumph 99-12 on aggregate and join Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary in Pool A in Round 2a, where teams would play each other home or away.

    Austria took their place in Pool B alongside Germany, Denmark, Moldova and Luxembourg after overcoming Bosnia & Herzegovina 41-7 on aggregate, while Lithuania beat Israel 113-7 to join Sweden, Latvia, Belgium and the Netherlands in Pool C.

    The last place was taken by Bulgaria, the 92-6 conquerors of Finland slotting into Pool D with Serbia & Montenegro, Switzerland, Poland and Malta. The top two in each Pool would progress to Round 3a, with the third placed teams facing playoffs to join them.

    Spain and Croatia both won three matches in Pool A, the meeting between the two ending in a 26-26 draw in Seville after the visitors fought back from 26-16 in the dying minutes. Spain finished top with a better point differential, but Croatia progressed as runners up.

    Andorra live to fight another day

    Andorra finished third after beating Hungary 29-16 and Slovenia 39-5 to set up a playoff against their counterparts in Pool C, who turned out to be Sweden with Belgium’s 15-10 victory over the Netherlands seeing them claim top spot from their opponents.

    Top spot in Pool B went to Germany after four victories – the most convincing 96-0 against Luxembourg – with Moldova finishing second after a 27-18 loss to the Germans. Denmark finished third to earn a playoff against Pool D side Malta.

    Poland went unbeaten through Pool D with an 18-11 victory over Serbia & Montenegro in the last match securing top spot from their opponents, who claimed second place with two victories and an 11-11 draw with Switzerland.

    In the play-offs each side won their home leg with Andorra running out 40-34 aggregate winners over Sweden and Malta edging Denmark 31-30 over the two legs, albeit only after a try in the dying seconds saw them overturn a nine-point first leg deficit.

    Andorra joined Spain, Poland, Moldova and the Netherlands in Pool A in Round 3a with only the winner to progress to a two-legged playoff against the winners of Pool B, which contained Germany, Croatia, Serbia & Montenegro, Belgium and Malta.

    Spain, coached by Ged Glynn, finished top of Pool A with an unbeaten record as Andorra’s run finally came to an end with four defeats, some 20 months after it had begun against Norway.

    The battle for top spot in Pool B went right down the final match with Germany and Belgium both unbeaten when they took to the pitch in Hanover. Five tries – including two from centre Clemens von Grumblow – saw Germany run out 33-15 winners.

    Germany building for the future

    For Germany their Pool B highlight was undoubtedly their 108-0 defeat of Serbia & Montenegro in Heidelberg – the only time a century was reached in the entire Rugby World Cup 2007 qualifying process.

    Germany’s hopes though came to an end in Round 3b against Spain – a side they had last met in qualifying for the 1999 tournament – despite winning the playoff’s first leg 18-6 at the Fritz-Grunebaum-Sportpark in Heidelberg.

    That prospect had seemed unlikely with 10 minutes remaining with the sides locked at 28-28 on aggregate, but Javier Canosa Schack and César Sempere Padilla tries saw Spain to a 36-10 victory before their passionate supporters in Madrid.

    The victory secured Spain a place in Division 1 of the European Nations Cup and also a Round 4 playoff against the Czech Republic, the fifth team in the previous year’s competition. Russia and the Ukraine would meet in the other playoff.

    Fly half Esteban Roqué Segovia scored 29 points across the two legs as Spain ran out 77-29 winners to join Romania and Georgia in Pool B in Round 5. Russia joined Portugal and Italy in Pool A with a 62-28 defeat of the Ukraine in September 2006.

    Big guns enter the fray

    The business end had now been reached with the two Pool winners qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2007 as Europe 1 and Europe 2, the two runners up progressing to a playoff to determine the Europe 3 qualifier and the nation consigned to the Répechage.

    Italy lived up to their billing to top Pool A with Kaine Robertson and Marko Stanojevic scoring hat-tricks in an 83-0 defeat of Portugal in L’Aquila, before they triumphed 67-7 over Russia in Moscow, although Konstantin Rachkov’s try received the biggest cheer.

    Russia seemed destined to finish second when they led 23-16 with 18 minutes remaining, only for Portugal to snatch a 26-23 victory after Diogo Mateus’ try and Duarte Pinto’s conversion and penalty to delight the home crowd in Lisbon.

    Italy had already confirmed their place in Pool C at Rugby World Cup 2007 alongside New Zealand and Scotland, but they would be joined there by the Europe 2 qualifier, which turned out to be Romania after they beat Georgia 20-8 and Spain 43-20.

    That left just one direct passage to France awaiting Portugal or Georgia, who beat Spain 37-23 in Tbilisi to finish behind Romania. Georgia, who made their debut at RWC 2003, duly took that after beating Portugal 17-3 in Tbilisi and drawing 11-11 in Lisbon.

    Portugal into the repechage

    Portugal’s dream of a first Rugby World Cup was still alive, though, they would just have to negotiate the Repechage if they were to join Italy and Romania in Pool C. They passed the first hurdle, beating Morocco 10-5 and 16-15 to leave only Uruguay in their way.

    However, Uruguay had beaten Portugal in the Répechage for the 1999 tournament and had 15 veterans of RWC 2003 in their squad for the first leg. Portugal, coached by Tomaz Morais, though emerged with a 12-5 victory to take to Montevideo on 24 March.

    The 191st and final qualifying match had barely begun when Juan Carlos Bado was sent off for Uruguay, and, while they recovered to win 18-12, they could only watch broken-hearted as Portugal celebrated their historic 24-23 aggregate victory.

    The Americas:

    The qualifying process for Rugby World Cup 2007 in the Americas followed two different pathways, one beginning in the Caribbean and the other in South America, with them only converging in a playoff to determine the region’s third team bound for France.

    Nineteen nations took part with the honour of being the first two falling on Brazil and Peru in Round 1b in the CONSUR [Confederation Sudamericana de Rugby] section in October 2004 with Brazil running out 73-3 winners in Sao Paulo.

    They then beat Colombia 74-0, before Venezuela entered the fray with victories against Peru 33-22 and Colombia 31-27, although on each occasion they needed late tries by fly half Pablo Barboza to ease nerves after their hosts had staged comebacks.

    Winner takes all in the South

    It all came down, therefore, to a winner-takes-all match between Venezuela and Brazil in the sweltering heat of Barquisimeto in November 2004, with both sides unbeaten and a place in Round 2 alongside Chile and Paraguay the prize.

    That place was eventually taken by Brazil after an 11-5 victory in an error-strewn match which saw six missed penalties, four of them by the winning side. Brazil, though, would have an 11-month wait until their next RWC qualifier.

    In the interim the focus switched to the Caribbean with St Lucia and St Vincent & The Grenadines meeting in a preliminary match in May 2005 in Vieux Fort, the home side winning 36-25 to take join Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago in the South Pool.

    The North Pool comprising Jamaica, Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands took place the following month at the Winton Rugby Centre in Nassau with the Bahamas coming out on top despite losing their final match 5-3 to Jamaica.

    That defeat, allied with the Cayman Islands’ 12-6 victory over Bermuda, left both sides with two victories, but the Bahamas had the better point differential and had recovered from 12-7 down to beat their rivals 23-12 in their opening match.

    In the South Pool, St Lucia conceded 41 tries and 260 points in three heavy defeats in Georgetown as Barbados finished top with victories over hosts Guyana 27-17, St Lucia 97-0 – the highest score in the Americas qualifiers – and Trinidad & Tobago 25-13.

    Barbados the toast of the Caribbean

    Barbados proved too strong for the Bahamas in the playoff between the Pool winners, running out 52-3 winners over a side who never let their heads drop despite the mounting scoreline. The victory saw Barbados join Canada and USA Eagles in Round 3b.

    That left Argentina and Uruguay awaiting the winner of Round 2, which turned out to be Chile after they fought back from 22-14 down at half time to beat Paraguay 38-22 in Santiago before overcoming Brazil 57-13 in Sao Paulo.

    Argentina have never lost to South American opposition, a tradition they maintained with a 60-13 defeat of Chile in Santiago and 26-0 victory over Uruguay in heavy rain in Buenos Aires in July 2006 to become the third qualifier for Rugby World Cup 2007.

    Pumas and Canada march through

    The Pumas joined France and Ireland in Pool D – Namibia and Georgia had yet to qualify – while Uruguay picked themselves up to beat Chile 43-15 with two tries from Nicolas Grille keeping their own hopes alive with a playoff again the Round 3a runner up.

    That turned out to be USA after they lost 56-7 to Canada in Newfoundland, wing James Pritchard scoring three tries in a 36-point haul – bettering his 31 points in the 69-3 defeat of Barbados that broke Gareth Rees’ long standing national record.

    The Eagles had already done enough to secure second place, beating Barbados 91-0 in a match which saw prop Martin Varga make an appearance as a 52-year-old replacement for the Caribbean nation.

    Uruguay had not lost a home RWC qualifier since 1993, but the Eagles scored 39 unanswered points to triumph 42-13 in Montevideo to end that run. They then ran out 33-7 winners in California to qualify and join England, South Africa and Samoa in Pool A.

    That left Uruguay having to negotiate the Répechage with Portugal, after they had beaten Morocco, standing in the way of their third successive World Cup. The more experienced Uruguayans were expected to win after Portugal took a seven-point lead to Montevideo.

    Uruguay did win the return leg, but only 18-12 despite throwing everything they had in the hunt for the vital score that would give them an aggregate victory. Portugal, therefore, by virtue of one point, celebrated becoming the final qualifier for RWC 2007.

    Africa:

    The third of the regional qualification processes to get underway was the Africa zone in March 2005 with six teams split into northern and southern pools, the top side in each to meet in a two-legged playoff with the winners progressing to Round 1B.

    Senegal claimed top spot in the northern pool with victories over Nigeria 46-6 and Cameroon 6-0, the latter being the fewest number of points scored in any of the 191 matches in the Rugby World Cup 2007 qualifying process.

    They were joined by Zambia in the playoff, although only on the rule that they had scored more points over the two matches played and had beaten Botswana 28-24 after all three nations won one match, Zambia and Botswana with an identical point differential.

    Senegal recovered from 14-13 down at half time to win their home leg 22-14 with fly half Steeve (CORR) Sargos kicking 17 points. A week later in Lusaka, a full house from Sargos saw Senegal again come from behind to win 13-6 and progress to the next stage.

    Round 1B saw Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar and Uganda enter the fray, the teams again separated into two Pools – A and B – with the winners qualifying automatically for the next round, the runners up meeting in another playoff to join them.

    Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast, both former Rugby World Cup qualifiers in 1991 and 1995 respectively, ended Senegal’s participation with victories before meeting in Abidjan to determine who would top Pool A and so avoid the playoff.

    A 33-3 victory for the home side forced Zimbabwe into the playoff against Pool B runners up Uganda, the top spot going to Kenya after they beat Uganda 8-5 and were held to a 24-24 draw by Madagascar in Nairobi.

    Both sides won their home leg, but Uganda progressed 36-31 on aggregate to Round 2 where Tunisia, Morocco and Namibia – veterans of the last two Rugby World Cups – entered to swell the number of nations involved in the Africa zone qualifiers to 14.

    Perfect start for Namibia

    Namibia enjoyed the perfect start in Pool A with an 82-12 defeat of Kenya in Windhoek, the 12-try loss resulting in a change of Kenyan coach with Manuel Okoth appointed in time for the visit of Tunisia and a return to winning ways with a 25-21 victory.

    The Pool, though, was blown wide open with Kenya’s first ever win over Namibia – 30-26 in Nairobi – sandwiched between two victories at home for Tunisia, giving them the edge going into the final match against Namibia in October 2006.

    However it was Namibia who made home advantage count to triumph 23-15 and progress to the Africa zone playoff final with the prize of a place at Rugby World Cup 2007 awaiting the winner of a two-legged affair with the top side in Pool B.

    That turned out to be Morocco after they beat Uganda home and away, drew away to the Ivory Coast and then beat them 23-7 in the final match in Casablanca. They certainly didn’t have it all their own way in Uganda, though, triumphing only 5-3 in a tense match.

    Chester breathes life into Cranes

    This was in stark contrast to a comfortable 36-3 win in Casablanca and Uganda’s rejuvenation could be attributed to the arrival of former Springbok wing Chester Williams on secondment as their Technical Director and his work on the basics.

    Uganda rewarded his efforts with a 32-7 defeat of the Ivory Coast in Kampala in July 2006, former boxer Robert Seguya starring in his new role of scrum half as confidence soared in the team who had never before reached this stage in the qualification process.

    The question remained though whether it would be Namibia or Morocco claiming the place in Pool D alongside host nation France, Argentina, Ireland and Georgia. Even for the loser, the World Cup dream was still alive with entry into the Répechage.

    Namibia ultimately came out on top, winning the first leg 25-7 at home and then triumphing 27-8 in Casablanca with centre Melrick Africa among their try scorers. Morocco therefore had to settle for a meeting with Portugal in the Répechage.

    Asia:

    Ten nations were involved in the first round of the Asia zone qualifying process for Rugby World Cup 2007, with China and Chinese Taipei having the honour of contesting the first match in Kunming during April 2005.

    A late try by Ma Bing gave China a 22-19 victory, avenging their 29-21 loss to their visitors in the RWC 2003 qualifying process. Things got little better for Chinese Taipei, despite their late rally, with a 30-26 loss to Arabian Gulf the next month.

    The other seven nations were divided into two Pools – A and B – with the winners, after home or away encounters, meeting in a two-legged playoff in Round 1B to determine the final team in Division 2 in the next round.

    In Pool A the opening match in Suphanburi had several twists and turns with Thailand bravely fighting back with two converted tries to level the score at 38-38, only for two tries in the last five minutes to see Sri Lanka recover for a 48-38 victory.

    Sri Lanka top group

    A week later Thailand’s involvement in the qualifying process came to an end with a 47-27 defeat by Singapore. Sri Lanka, though, would finish top after turning a one-point half time lead into a 34-17 victory over Singapore with a brace from centre Pradeep Liyanage.

    Sri Lanka would meet Kazakhstan in the playoff after victories over India 36-22 and Malaysia 48-3 in Mumbai and then Guam 51-6 in Almaty saw them top Pool B, one which also heralded historic occasions for both India and Guam to celebrate.

    India recorded their first ever Test victory on home soil with a convincing 48-12 defeat of Malaysia in Mumbai on 11 June 2005, while a week later an injury time try by Supratik Sen secured them an 8-8 draw in what was Guam’s first full international match.

    In the Round 1B playoff both Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka won their home legs, the latter’s 24-12 victory in Colombo overturning a six-point deficit from their defeat in Almaty to progress 43-37 on aggregate and join China and Hong Kong in Division 2.

    Big guns enter fray

    The second round saw Japan, Korea and Hong Kong enter the fray in April 2006, the first two being joined in Division 1 with the Arabian Gulf, who had beaten China 24-22 five months earlier, with the winner and runner up to progress to the next hurdle.

    Japan, as expected, topped the Division after beating Arabian Gulf 82-9 and Korea 50-14 in Tokyo with wing Daisuke Ohata scoring five tries across the matches to move to within two of Australian David Campese’s world record of 64 Test tries.

    Korea then proved too strong for the Arabian Gulf, winning 20-5 to finish as runners up. They would be joined in Round 3 by Division 2 winners Hong Kong, who overcame Sri Lanka 45-14 at home and China 23-7 in Beijing.

    The final round of Asian qualifiers was due to take place in Colombo, but political troubles in Sri Lanka initially saw the tournament postponed and then moved to Hong Kong in November 2006.

    Japan were favourites to win the tournament and in doing so maintain their ever present record in Rugby World Cup history, taking up a place in Pool B alongside Australia, Wales, Fiji and Canada in France.

    Kirwan demands excellence

    They went into the final hurdle boosted by the appointment of World Cup winner John Kirwan as national coach from 1 January, the former All Black acting as an advisor as his new charges ran out 52-3 winners over Hong Kong in their opening match.

    Korea had asked former Manu Samoa coach John Boe to help them prepare for the tournament and they overcame heavy rain to beat Hong Kong 23-5 and secure themselves at worst a Répechage berth.

    Ohata, having broken Campese’s record six months earlier, scored a hat-trick as the impressive Brave Blossoms ran in eight tries to beat Korea 54-0 and book their tickets to France, condemning the losers to another Répechage meeting with Oceania 3 side Tonga.

    Unfortunately for Korea, just as had been the case in qualifying for the 1999 and 2003 tournaments, the Pacific islanders proved too big and powerful for them, scoring 13 tries in a one-off match to triumph 83-3 in Auckland, New Zealand in February 2007.

    Oceania:

    The first Rugby World Cup 2007 qualifier of the Oceania region was not, as you might expect, in the opening round involving the lowest ranked nations, but in the third tier between heavyweights Fiji and Tonga at the National Stadium in Suva on 25 June 2005.

    In fact the third round had nearly finished before the island of Niue in the South Pacific Ocean began their campaign in the opening round a month later with the visit of Tahiti to the Paliati Grounds for their Pool B encounter.

    Niue, with a population of just over 2,000, were convincing winners in the match, turning a 12-3 advantage into a 55-8 final score with six second half tries to keep alive their hopes of progressing from this pool of Polynesian islands.

    The Cook Islands were the other Pool B team and they ran out 47-22 winners over Tahiti before welcoming Niue to the National Stadium in Raratonga, a match the home side won 24-5 to await the winner of Pool A comprising the Melanesian islands.

    This turned out to be Papua New Guinea, who overcame the Solomon Islands 45-7 in Honiara and then the visiting Vanuatu 97-3. The two met home and away with the Cook Islands outscoring their visitors by seven tries to two for a 37-12 victory in Raratonga.

    A week later Papua New Guinea won the return match 20-11, but it wasn’t enough to claim victory on aggregate and the Cook Islands progressed to round four to face Tonga, who had earlier finished third behind Fiji and Samoa in round three.

    The three heavyweights had played each other home and away during June and July 2005 with two places in RWC 2007 on offer with the round winner going into Pool A and the runner-up into Pool B with former champions Australia and Wales.

    Tonga began the round with away trips to Fiji and Samoa over consecutive weekends, losing the first 19-11 in Suva despite fighting back from 16-3 down at halftime as Apolosi Satala enjoyed a debut to remember for the Fijians.

    Tuilagi muscle the difference

    Samoan brothers Alesana and Anitelea Tuilagi scored five tries between them as Tonga were beaten 50-28 at Apia Park. Four try star Alesana also scored the next weekend when Samoa ran out 36-10 winners over Fiji with Roger Warren kicking 21 points in the game.

    Fiji bounced back to hand Tonga a third defeat – 24-19 in Nuku’alofa – although the home side were unlucky, having trailed 24-0 with 16 minutes to go and been denied an injury time try by a saving tackle from Norman Ligairi.

    A week later Tonga lost 30-19 to Samoa in Nuku’alofa, handing their rivals the two automatic passages to RWC 2007. Fiji then beat Samoa 21-15 in Suva, but the visitors finished top on points difference to be paired with England and South Africa as in 2003.

    Tonga had to wait a year to face the Cook Islands in a two-legged playoff, where they simply overpowered their opponents, winning 77-10 in Raratonga and 90-0 at home to enter the Répechage and await the Asia 2 nation with the winner to join Samoa in Pool A.

    For the third time in a row this turned out to be Korea – the Islanders won 194-0 on aggregate in 2003 – and Tonga once again proved too big and powerful for their opponents in a one-off match, scoring 13 tries to win 83-3 in Auckland, New Zealand.

    Répechage:

    Rugby World Cup year dawned with dreams of a place in France still alive for five of the 86 nations who had taken part in the qualification process that began in the Principality of Andorra back in September 2004.

    However only two from Morocco, Portugal, Uruguay, Korea and Tonga would join the other 18 qualifiers for the fifth Rugby World Cup, the other three consigned to picking themselves up to try again for the 2011 tournament in New Zealand.

    The five teams given a second chance to qualify through the Répechage were split into two sections, one to provide the final qualifier in Pool A with former champions England and South Africa, the other for Pool C with inaugural winners New Zealand.

    Oceania representatives Tonga found Korea standing between them and a Rugby World Cup spot for the third time in a row, the Asian side having lost 140-41 and 194-0 on aggregate to the Pacific islanders in 1999 and 2003 respectively.

    This time, though, Tonga and Korea would meet in a one-off match to determine the Répechage 2 qualifier that would join defending champions England, South Africa, USA and Samoa in Pool A in France.

    Tonga power through to France

    Tonga had missed out on the two automatic passages for the Oceania region after losing to Fiji and Samoa twice in round three, but entered the Répechage after beating the Cook Islands 167-10 on aggregate in the fourth round playoff in July 2006.

    Korea’s passage into Répechage 2 was not as convincing as Tonga’s, a 23-5 defeat of host nation Hong Kong in the three-team tournament that comprised the final round of the Asian qualifiers enough to see them finish as Asia 2.

    The sole Rugby World Cup spot for the Asian region again went to Japan, their newly appointed coach John Kirwan overseeing the defeats of Hong Kong 52-3 and then Korea 54-0 at the tournament moved from Sri Lanka because of political unrest.

    Tonga and Korea therefore converged on a hot and sunny Waitemata Park in Auckland, New Zealand, for another Répechage encounter on 10 March. The Korean supporters may have drowned out the Tongans in the crowd, but on the pitch it was a different story.

    The Pacific islanders’ height and weight advantage was simply too much for Korea and Tonga scored 13 tries with Hudson Tonga’uiha, Fangatapu Apikotoa, Vaea Poteki and Sione Fonua both crossing twice in the 83-3 win – Hong Jun-Ki kicking Korea’s only points with a second half penalty.

    By the time these two nations took to the field, one of the quintet had already seen their dreams come to an end – African representatives Morocco having lost their two-legged affair with Portugal 26-20 on aggregate in late January.

    The first leg in the Stade de COC in Casablanca had seen Portugal, the higher placed of the nations in the IRB World Rankings, edge a close encounter 10-5. Then, a week later in Lisbon, Portugal held off a strong Moroccan fight back to win the second leg 16-15.

    Portugal daring to dream

    For Portugal, who had entered the Répechage after losing the European playoff 28-14 to Georgia, the dream of a first Rugby World Cup appearance was within touching distance with Americas zone representative Uruguay standing between them and France 2007.

    Ironically the two sides had meet in the Répechage eight years earlier, Uruguay winning 46-9 at home and then 33-24 in Portugal to qualify for their first Rugby World Cup. This time the first leg would be in Lisbon with Uruguay fielding 15 veterans of RWC 2003.

    Portugal though are a much improved team under coach Tomaz Morais, and tries by Diogo Gama and Diogo Coutinho saw them lead 12-0 before Uruguay captain Rodrigo Capó’s 78th minute try gave his side hope for the second leg in Montevideo.

    A seven point lead with nothing given Uruguay’s proud record at home, their defeat by USA Eagles in the Americas playoff their only home RWC qualifier loss since 1993 and with 7,000 passionate fans roaring Los Teros’ on anything could happen.

    However Uruguay’s hopes were dealt a blow when lock Juan Carlos Bado was sent off in the third minute for foul play, and despite throwing everything at Portugal in the last 15 minutes they could only win 18-12, meaning Portugal progressed 24-23 on aggregate.

    Uruguay’s hopes of a third successive Rugby World Cup were over, but 932 after the first qualifying match had taken place, it was Portugal celebrating having becoming the 20th and final nation heading to France in September.

    Final qualifier

    Portugal therefore became the 20th and final qualifier for Rugby World Cup 2007, the tournament debutants earning their spot in Pool C alongside 1987 champions New Zealand, Scotland, Italy and Romania.

    Six hundred and 10 days earlier the first two nations to join the eight automatic qualifiers for Rugby World Cup 2007 had become known with Samoa and Fiji taking the two berths available in the Oceania region at Tonga’s expense in July 2005.

    A year later Argentina booked their tickets to France and before 2006 had been consigned to history Canada, USA Eagles, Romania, Italy, Namibia, Japan and Georgia had swelled the confirmed participants to 18.

    That left only the two berths available through the Répechage to be determined with Tonga for the third qualifying campaign in a row ending Korean dreams to seal the first, before Portugal qualified for their first ever Rugby World Cup after edging Uruguay.

    20 nations decided

    The 20 nations that will converge on France for RWC 2007 are therefore England, Australia, New Zealand, France, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Samoa, Fiji, Argentina, Canada, USA, Romania, Italy, Namibia, Japan, Georgia, Tonga and Portugal.

    For the first eight named they have had four years to plan for the tournament, having secured automatic qualification by virtue of reaching the quarter final stages at Rugby World Cup 2003 in Australia.

    Seven of these nations also qualified automatically for the last World Cup, the exception being Ireland who had to go down the European qualifying route after losing to Argentina 28-24 in the quarter final playoffs back in 1999.

    They avoided a repeat performance by edging Argentina 16-15 in the pool stages to join Australia in progressing to the quarter finals in 2003, so condemning Argentina to facing the likes of Chile and Uruguay in the CONSUR qualifiers in the Americas zone again.

    Scotland, likewise, only scraped into the quarter finals with a 22-20 defeat of Fiji in their must-win last pool match to guarantee themselves automatic qualification and maintain their record of having reached the last eight at every Rugby World Cup.

    Inaugural champions New Zealand, two-time winners Australia, defending champions England and two-time losing finalists France are the only others among the automatic qualifiers to boast that similar proud record.

    South Africa, the 1995 champions, can say the same for the three they have competed in, having been prevented from participating in 1987 and 1991 due to their international sporting boycott as a result of the apartheid regime in the country.

    Hosts still to win

    Of these only France are yet to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, while New Zealand are the only ones with the proud tradition of never failing to reach the semi finals, even if they haven’t been able to call themselves world champions since Australia succeeded them in 1991.

    The one blip in Wales’ record came back in 1991 when they were famously beaten by Western Samoa 16-13 at Cardiff Arms Park, a result which saw them fail to progress from the pool stages. They lost to Samoa again in 1999 but still reached the last eight.

    For Ireland, the only one of the automatic qualifiers never to have reached a World Cup semi final, the quarter final playoff loss to Argentina is their one disappointment, having suffered last eight losses to Australia in 1987 and 1991 and France in 1995 and 2003.

    England became the first northern hemisphere nation to win the World Cup in 2003, but a mere nine months and 14 days after Martin Johnson lifted the Webb Ellis Cup on an emotional night in Sydney, the long road to France 2007 kicked off in Andorra.

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    long & winding road

    Thanks for posting Burgs.
    puts the RWC journey into some perspective. Some nations complaining about too much rugby and tired players, we could do well to recall that some nations started their RWC journey in 2004. 3 years and most are not in it at the end. But there is always hope - thats why the RWC is important.

    Its not the only comp. to aim at winning, but its open to all.

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    Great that it is all IRB sponsored and you get people like Andre Watson refereeing Norway v Andorra. It reaches down to countries where rugby is very much a minor sport - as a reminder of that...

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    Rugby Union: Brawl isn't what it seems in Russia
    The Associated Press

    Published: June 13, 2006


    ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia Scrums, mauls and rucks and an oddly shaped soccer ball? To police in southern Russia, this rugby match sure looked like a mass brawl.

    Police officers responding to a report of a large group of men fighting on Sunday evening found dozens of cars and people gathered in an empty field on the outskirts of this southern Russian city, and they later reported seeing what appeared to be a fight between criminal gang members.

    More than 70 officers detained about 100 people before determining they were playing rugby instead of brawling, and released them several hours later after scolding them for not alerting the authorities ahead of time.

    "Given the difficult, troubled situation in the region, at a time when counterterrorism actions are being actively conducted, citizens are obligated to inform either verbally or in writing of their intentions," said a precinct police officer, who was not authorized to speak to the news media and so did not want his name to be used. "Then there wouldn't be such an unpleasant situation."

    The southern Russia region is adjacent to the troubled North Caucasus, where violence from Chechnya regularly spills into nearby areas.

    Organizers denied doing anything wrong. They said the police had arrested them in spite of their repeated explanations that they were playing a game. Amateur rugby players in the region have no regular place to play, they said, so they gather about a half-dozen times a year wherever they can.

    "The fact that police took us to be hooligans, this isn't the first time," said one of the organizers, Aleksandr, who declined to give his last name for fear of offending the police. "Honestly, it's the first time that we've ever heard that we're supposed to make public our plans to the local police."

    Rugby is a minor activity in Russia, where soccer and ice hockey are the most popular team sports.

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