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ZIMBABWE’S chances of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup could become brighter following revelations by World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper that the global body was mulling expanding the competition to a 24-team tournament from the current 20.

But that decision looks set to be only implemented in eight years time!

Zimbabwe last made it for the World Cup in 1991 which was their second appearance at the global stage having taken part in the inaugural tournament four years earlier but both occasions were on invitation from the then International Rugby Board.

Last year the Sables were at their closest to qualifying for the quadrennial tournament which will this year take place in England but shot themselves in the arm, poor decision making costing them an automatic slot as all they needed to do was win the Africa Cup.

But with a chance of doing so in the last moments of their game against Kenya, the Sables opted to go for posts after they were awarded a penalty in the Kenya 22-yard instead of running the ball and going for a bonus point try that they so badly needed, leaving Namibia to qualify.

The Sables once again got a chance to redeem themselves in the play-offs, travelling to Siberia where they lost to Russia and eventually marking the end of their painful and failed campaign.

Namibia have been dominating African qualifiers for the World Cup over the last two decades and the Welwitchians have been Zimbabwe’s biggest hurdle as South Africa do not play in the qualifiers.

This year’s tournament in England and Wales will feature 20 nations, up from 16 when it began in 1987.

However, Gosper says “huge” demand for rugby on TV in Russia and Germany proves the game can expand beyond its traditional heartlands. He also rejected the idea that more nations would damage the competitive nature of the tournament. According to reports from England, Gosper’s main argument in considering the expansion of the global showpiece to 24 countries is because the sport is conquering new territories.

“The win margins in each World Cup are coming down and we hope that remains the case in 2015,”

“We had discussions about Japan 2019 and taking it from 20 to 24 and we decided not to do that.

“But we have to keep an eye on the fact that some of these countries on the fringes can hugely expand the sport.

“We have countries like Russia and Germany which are just outside and have huge broadcast markets and something like the World Cup would be amazing for the popularity of the sport.

“You have to tamper that with the realities of the competition, so it’s 20 in 2015 and also 2019 but as the sport grows and conquers new markets the debate is more likely to be whether it goes up rather than whether we should be reducing,” Gosper told reporters at a sports industry forum in London.

Gosper said this year’s World Cup would be biggest in terms of broadcast viewing hours, the number of territories, commercial return and ticket sales and rejected suggestions that the host nation would not benefit.

“They (Rugby Football Union) will do well out of ticket revenue, by the legacy that is provided, the growth of sport in the country.

“It’s a rare opportunity for the sport to project itself on the biggest global stage and the proof is that in 2023 the (hosting) fee will be higher but there is already a queue (to host it) and that’s exciting for the sport.”

Source : The Herald

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