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Rugby World Cup: What Ireland must do to reach quarter-finals. It’s not guaranteed

Ahead of their final game against Scotland, Andy Farrell’s team are still not guaranteed a top-two finish in Pool B

With three games down and this weekend off, Andy Farrell’s Ireland team will go into the final round of games in Pool B knowing exactly what they need to do to reach the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.

Despite their win over the reigning world champions on Saturday night, and two bonus point victories before that, Ireland’s place in the last eight is not guaranteed. It’s a three-horse race, with Scotland and the Springboks in action this weekend while the Irish lads get a chance to recover ahead of facing Scotland on Saturday, October 7th.

If two teams finish on equal points in the pool their placing will first be decided by the head-to-head result. And if three teams are all on the same points, scoring difference will used to determine who wins the group before going back to head-to-head to decided the second and third places. It’s complicated, but for teams tied on points at the end of the pool stages the following criteria apply;

Rugby World Cup pool stage tiebreakers

1 The winner of the match between two tied teams is ranked higher.


2 The team with the best points difference in the pool stages is ranked higher.

3 The team with the best difference between tries scored and tries conceded in the pool stages is ranked higher.

4 The team which has scored the most points in the pool stages is ranked higher.

5 The team which has scored the most tries in the pool stages is ranked higher.

As such, if three teams are tied on points and have all beaten each other, as will need to be the case for that to happen in Pool B, the winner will then almost certainly be decided by points difference with second and third being determined on the head-to-head record.

As World Rugby have stated: “For clarification, in the case of a tie between three or more Teams at the end of the pool phase, once the highest ranked Team has been determined following the above criteria, to determine the next higher ranked Team the process would repeat, starting at criterion 1 (ie, who won the head-to-head between the two remaining sides).”

Second place in Pool B will almost certainly face France in the knockout stages, while the All Blacks are set to take on the winners.

So what do Ireland, South Africa and Scotland need to do in order to qualify for the quarter-finals?

South Africa

Remaining fixtures

Sun Oct 1st – South Africa v Tonga, kick-off 8pm (Irish time)

If South Africa beat Tonga with a bonus point

So far Tonga have lost heavily to Ireland and Scotland – by a combined 71 points – so the Springboks will be expected to pick up five points against them on Sunday at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille. This will bring them to 15 points and, ahead of Ireland’s game against Scotland, they will top the pool, with Ireland on 14 points and Scotland likely to be on 10.

If Ireland win or draw against Scotland, South Africa will finish second. If Scotland pull off a bonus point win over Ireland, South Africa will top the group as they have the head-to-head on Scotland. Although if Ireland picked up a losing bonus point it would come down to scoring difference between the three sides all on 15 points to see who tops the group.

South Africa are currently +86, Ireland are +122 and Scotland with just two games played are +12.

If Ireland picked up a try bonus point and losing bonus point they would finish top with the Springboks second, again edging Scotland on the head-to-head.

If South Africa beat Tonga without picking up a bonus point

Fourteen points will be enough to progress if Ireland beat or draw with Scotland. If Scotland defeat Ireland with neither picking up a bonus point then all three teams will again be separated by scoring difference. However any additional bonus points picked up in this scenario would also prove the difference, and head-to-head would then separate the sides.

If South Africa draw or lose against Tonga

A defeat, along with an Irish win over Scotland would still leave them on 10 points with Scotland, in which case South Africa would progress in second place. Additional bonus points picked up by either side in defeat would also edge them into second. A draw would be enough for Scotland however, if South Africa lost. Although two bonus points in defeat would still see them through in this instance. A draw would also be enough if Scotland lose or draw. But if Scotland beat Ireland and South Africa do not beat Tonga then their World Cup defence will be over.


Remaining fixtures

Sat Sep 30th – Scotland v Romania, kick-off 8pm (Irish time)

Sat Oct 7th – Ireland v Scotland, kick-off 8pm (Irish time)

If Scotland beat Ireland with a bonus point

Assuming Scotland will enjoy a bonus point win over Romania, another bonus point win over Ireland would move them ahead of the Irish on 15 points. They’d then likely be on the same points as South Africa and therefore take second place as they lost to the Springboks in the opening round of games. If Ireland picked up a losing bonus point, however, scoring difference would then come into play. Two Irish losing points would knock Scotland down to third.

If Scotland beat Ireland without picking up a bonus point

In this case Scotland would probably still be a point behind South Africa but tied on 14 points with Ireland and therefore ahead of them on head-to-head. An Irish losing bonus point would be enough to turn this around.

If Scotland draw or lose against Ireland

On the assumption South Africa will be on 15 points, if Scotland do not beat Ireland their World Cup will definitely be over.


Remaining fixtures

Sat Oct 7th – Ireland v Scotland, kick-off 8pm (Irish time)

If Ireland beat Scotland with a bonus point

In this situation Ireland will top the table regardless of results elsewhere.

If Ireland beat Scotland without picking up a bonus point

In this situation Ireland will also top the table.

If Ireland draw against Scotland

Even a draw will be enough for Ireland to move ahead of South Africa and top Pool B.

If Ireland lose to Scotland but pick up a bonus point

If Scotland beat Ireland and end up on 14 points, but Andy Farrell’s team pick up a losing bonus point, they will be on 15 points with South Africa. With Ireland topping the table as they have the head-to-head on South Africa. If Scotland also secure a bonus point in the win then all three sides will be tied on 15 points with scoring difference deciding who tops the group. Two bonus points for Ireland will bring them to 16 points meaning that even in defeat they would top the pool.

If Ireland lose to Scotland without picking up a bonus point

This will leave Ireland in a very vulnerable position. Fourteen points is less than South Africa’s likely 15. If tied on 14 with Scotland they would then lose the head-to-head. So Scotland wouldn’t even need a try bonus point to progress.

So ...

The only realistic threat of Ireland not progressing is if they lose to Scotland by more than seven points and fail to pick up a losing bonus point or score the four tries needed to collect a try bonus point.