Gatland questions competition format

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The Independent Online

WARREN GATLAND, the Ireland coach, yesterday questioned the wisdom of a World Cup format which allows teams the option of losing matches and yet benefiting in the long run.

WARREN GATLAND, the Ireland coach, yesterday questioned the wisdom of a World Cup format which allows teams the option of losing matches and yet benefiting in the long run.

By increasing the tournament from 16 countries to 20, with five pools of four and the introduction of quarter-final play-offs, it is mathematically possible for sides to lose two matches in their group and find themselves better placed.

"The more we lose the more we like it," John Redmond, Ireland's media officer, joked. He does, however, have a point. Ireland suffered a 23-3 defeat to Australia at Lansdowne Road on Sunday, but the loss was by no means disastrous.

By finishing runners-up in Pool E, Ireland would seem to have an easier route for the last eight where they would have a quarter-final in Dublin. Also, because the matches are not being played simultaneously, Ireland would know before meeting Romania in their final group match on Friday night, that they could lose and, providing they scored sufficient points, would still reach the quarter-final play-offs, as the best-placed third team, where they would have a rematch with Romania in France.

"I can categorically deny that we will throw the game against Romania," Gatland said. "We will know on Thursday what the permutations are but our priority is to beat Romania. However, the way things have worked out is something that the International Board should look at."

The deterrent against any Machiavellian positioning at the group stage is that the also-rans could have to then play three times in eight days. Even so, the quality of the opposition has enabled the big fish in the pools to rest players for some games. For Romania, Ireland have made 10 changes. The captain, Dion O'Cuinneagain, the hooker Keith Wood, the stand-off David Humphreys and the centre Brian O'Driscoll are all rested.

IRELAND TEAM: C O'Shea (London Irish; capt); J Topping (Ballymena), J Bell (Dungannon), M Mullins (Young Munster), J Bishop (London Irish); E Elwood (Galwegians), T Tierney (Garryowen); J Fitzpatrick (Dungannon), R Nesdale (Newcastle), P Clohessy (Young Munster), P Johns (Dungannon), M O'Kelly (St Mary's College), D Corkery (Cork Constitution), K Dawson (London Irish), E Miller (Terenure College). Replacements: G D'Arcy (Lansdowne), B O'Driscoll (Blackrock College), B O'Meara (Cork Constitution), D O'Cuinneagain (Ballymena), K Wood (Garryowen), A McKeen (Lansdowne).

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