Rugby World Cup: World Rugby open to expanding squad sizes for future tournaments

The 31-player limit on the size of squads has been criticised but calls to expand came too late for the 2019 tournament

Harry Latham-Coyle@hlathamcoyle
Tuesday 17 September 2019 15:22
Rugby World Cup 2019 in numbers

World Rugby’s CEO and Chief Operating Officer have suggested that the permitted squad size for Rugby World Cups could be expanded for future tournaments.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has criticised the 31-player limit ahead of the 2019 tournament, declaring that it does not give coaches enough players to properly compete at a global tournament of this nature without compromising player safety.

But calls from Schmidt and others for an expansion to the squad size came too late for this year’s tournament, CEO Brett Gosper has suggested, while admitting that World Rugby are open to a change.

“The first thing I would say is that we’re never entrenched in one particular position; that position has come quite late in the day,” said Gosper.

“We believe that there’s good player welfare parameters experienced around the size of the squads.

“Coaches generally want more players at their disposal and we understand that. Looking forward we might look at that.

“It does have cost implications but of course, if we do sense and understand that there are real player welfare gains in those squad changes, we would move towards that. So we’re not closed to that.”

The limit has seen some teams, including England, travel to Japan without a spare man at specialist positions like tighthead prop, hooker and scrum-half.

Teams generally name squads of about 35 for other international fixtures. The problem of lack of resources is exacerbated for this tournament by Japan’s relative isolation form the rest of the rugby-playing world meaning potential injury replacements could not necessarily easily or swifyl be called upon,

Further, with rugby increasingly concerned over both short and long-term player welfare, World Rugby are looking at ways to lower the injury rate, and with short turnarounds between group stage games, World Cups are particularly demanding on the body.

Alan Gilpin, COO of World Rugby, echoed Gosper’s comments on the matter, and said the organisation will reassess ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France after consultation with teams and doctors.

“Every World Cup throws up some areas for discussion and we’ll review that very thoroughly with the teams, team doctors and research after the tournament and move forward into the next cycle planning with the right information.

“I think the way it’s been raised so close to this tournament never gave us any opportunity to really look at change for Japan 2019. But we’ll definitely review that.

“The move to 31 players actually took place after Rugby World Cup 2011 and particularly in relation to front-row cover.”


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