2027 World Cup in Australia expanding to 24 teams with shorter schedule

The next Rugby World Cup in 2027 in Australia will feature more teams, an extra knockout round and a week less to play.

The late-2027 tournament will have 24 teams, the first expansion since 1999 when it went to 20 teams from the original 16.

Where the four new teams will qualify from will be determined after a review of the ongoing World Cup in France, World Rugby said yesterday [Macau time].

The 2027 dates were set for Oct. 1 to Nov. 13, the first time the tournament will start in October since 2003, when it was last staged in Australia.

A reduced four-week pool stage will feed into a new round of 16 as the whole tournament will be played over six weeks rather than the current seven.

There will be six pools of four teams; the top two in each pool will advance along with the four best third-placed teams. World Rugby promised to maintain the current turnaround between matches to uphold player welfare.

The draw, which has to be after the November test window to be fairer when most teams have played, will take place in January 2026.

It can’t be in January 2027, 10 months before the tournament, because “you would put ticket sales at risk and that puts the financing of the tournament at risk,” World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin said. “Fans would be very frustrated with that outcome, of not being able to plan with any certainty with less than a year to a Rugby World Cup.”

Gilpin said January 2026 was a compromise between not being too late and not too early, as it was for the ongoing Rugby World Cup in France. That draw was held nearly three years ago in December 2020. It became controversial only in the past year when big changes in the world rankings meant that by the time the tournament opened in Paris the top five teams were in one half of the draw.

Expansion was expected after the United States failed to qualify for the World Cup in France.

The U.S. will stage the 2031 men’s World Cup and is automatically qualified as the host, but World Rugby didn’t want to risk the U.S. also not qualifying for 2027 and going 12 years between World Cups.

“The decision to expand Rugby World Cup 2027 to 24 teams is logical and the right thing to do,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said. “We must create greater relevance, opportunity and competitiveness to attract new fans and grow value.

“This incredible Rugby World Cup 2023 tournament has demonstrated the passion and potential that lies beyond the top 10 or 12 nations, if we think big and think inclusive. It is not acceptable to accept the status quo. Not acceptable to do nothing.”

Rugby Australia bid for 2027 on the basis of a 20-team tournament but welcomed expansion as “a fantastic outcome,” organizing committee head Rod Eddington said. MDT/AP

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