Pool A Permutations: How Ireland’s fate is not 100% in their own hands

Update: Now that Scotland have dispatched of Samoa, Ireland’s fate is back in their own hands, but here is a table outlining the permutations:

photo taken from: https://www.skysports.com/rugby-union/japan-vs-ireland/85539

Ireland’s loss to Japan today means that Japan are in pole position and can probably afford to lose one of their two remaining matches, as long as they don’t miss all the bonus points on offer. At the time of writing, the table looks like this:


Forgetting details like points differencece there are really just two important facts for Ireland:

  • Ireland need to win both their matches to qualify
  • If they also get the two available bonus points then they will definitely qualify for the quarter-finals, barring this very bizarre sequence of results:

Can Ireland get two bonus point wins and still not qualify?


If Samoa bonus point Scotland & Japan, while getting two bonus points in their loss to Ireland

Japan lose to Samoa and beat Scotland, picking up three bonus points along the way.

What’s the best case scenario for each team?

  • Samoa still control their fate. They have beaten Russia and, if they beat everyone else, then they will top the pool with 17-20 points.
  • Japan are in pole position an will win the group if they win their two matches v Samoa & Scotland. Since they will have 17-19 points, Ireland can’t catch them.
  • Ireland need two wins (14-16 points)
  • Scotland need three, preferably with bonus points throughout, after being Five-Nilled against Ireland

In the analysis that follows, I am going to assume that Ireland win both of their matches (against Samoa and Russia). If they don’t, then they would need a string of results to go their way and I’ll worry about those permutations if that happens. However, I am also going to assume that Russia will lose all their matches but that Samoa could beat Japan and/or Scotland.

The fixture list

Let’s begin with a quick look at the fixtures. Ireland play Russia this Thursday coming while Samoa have  a nice five-day turnaround between their fixture against Scotland (on Monday) and Japan (on Saturday). The Japanese got skanked in 2015 as they had to play Scotland four days after their legendary win over South Africa, so they have taken control of the situation and made things easy on themselves and tough on their opponents. Notice how they gave Ireland a sneaky six-day turnaround between their two toughest matches. Thus both Ireland and Samoa have both been taken for a ride — with Scotland being used to tire them out before the Japanese vulture in on their tired opponents. Furthermore, Scotland have a four-day turnaround between their games against Russia (first) and, Japan (unsurprisingly second).

In order to understand the permutations, we need to look at the following scenarios:

  1. Japan win both their matches  v Samoa & Scotland
  2. Scotland beat Japan, AND
    • Case 2a:  Scotland & Japan both beat Samoa 
    • Case 2c:  Samoa beat Japan & Scotland 
    • Case 2b: Scotland will all their matches but Samoa beat Japan
  3. Scotland and Japan draw 

1. If Japan win both their matches

  • Japan will win group with 17-19 points
  • Ireland will come second with 14-16 points no matter what happens elsewhere.
  • Scotland and Samoa will be going into the repechage regardless of who wins this game.

N.B. The category Max Ridic occurs when teams get two losing bonus points or even three points for a bonus-point draw. In the example above, it is possible for if Ireland get no bonus points (ending on 14 points), and Samoa bonus point Scotland (Samoa = 10) , before losing with two bonus points against both Ireland (S = 12) and Japan ( S = 14), then both Ireland and Samoa will have 14 points. However, Ireland would win on head-to-heads (as they would have beaten Samoa), and still qualify in second place.

2. If Scotland beat Japan

There are various permutations, but these two are the most interesting:

Case 2a: Japan & Scotland both beat Samoa

Ireland will win the group unless Japan get a win and three bonus points in two matches

  • If Scotland bonus-point everyone, then they can make it to 15 points.
  • However, two bonus point wins from Ireland (16 points) will trump this regardless.
  • If Ireland and Scotland both finish on 15 points, then Ireland will qualify on head-to-heads.
  • However, if Scotland and Japan both finish on the same number of points then Scotland will progress and it would be a repeat of 2015 when Japan won three pool matches but still didn’t qualify.
  • Nonetheless, Should Japan bonus-point Samoa (J = 14) then they can still top the pool (over Ireland) by getting two losing bonus points against Scotland, (J = 16, I = 16) #MaxRidic. In this case Japan would top Ireland thanks to their shock victory
  • If Ireland, Japan & Scotland all get 15 points, then we get a three-way tie and it would come down to points difference, then try difference, then points scored, then tries scored and, finally, World Rankings on 14 October.

Case 2b: Scotland win all their matches and Samoa beat Japan

Ireland would probably win the group although Scotland will progress and Japan would be, eh, going home.

  • This is very #MaxRidic.
  • Ireland would probably win the group although Scotland could still progress.
  • However, Japan could still qualify (despite losing to both Scotland and Samoa) as long as they get 2 losing bonus points in both games AND Scotland don’t get two or more bonus points.
  • And Samoa could qualify with two wins as long as they get lots of


3. Scotland and Japan draw

It comes down to bonus points.

  • If Scotland and Japan draw, then Ireland win the group if Japan don’t get a bonus point win against Samoa. Japan can still be eliminated in this scenario if Scotland get a bonus point draw (it would come down to points / tries difference).

4. The nightmare: Samoa beat Scotland and Japan but Japan beat Scotland.

It’s hard to imagine, but it could happen and if there was a spate of bonus points, Ireland could be eliminated. Samoa, currently on 5 points, could bonus point both Scotland and Japan, taking them to 15 points. If they also lost to Ireland by less than eight points AND they score four tries, that would give them seventeen points #MaxRidic.

Meanwhile, Japan would bonus point Scotland (14 points) and get two losing bonus points to Samoa (again, #MaxRidic). That would take Japan to 16 points and they would oust Ireland on Head-to-Head. Meanwhile, Samoa would, thanks to their seventeen points, win the group.


Ireland will qualify if they win both of their matches with a bonus point, barring the nightmare scenarios.

To win the pool, they need Japan to lose a match against either Scotland or Samoa and, even then, it might come down to  bonus points.

  1. Japan win both their matches  –> Ireland come second
  2. Scotland beat Japan
    • Case 2a: Japan & Scotland both beat Samoa –>  Ireland win group if they get 2BP wins but there is a potential three-way tie between Ireland, Scotland & Japan. It would come down to bonus points and then head-to-heads.
    • Case 2b: Scotland will all their matches and Samoa beat Japan –> Ireland probably win group but Samoa still might. Japan could still sneak through on bonus points
    • There are other possibilities but basically Ireland should win the group.
  3. Scotland and Japan draw
    • It will come down to bonus points.
  4. The nightmare.
    • Samoa beat Japan and Scotland and, despite losing to Ireland, they collect FOUR bonus points and knock us out.

In order to avoid New Zealand, Ireland need Scotland to beat Japan and then it will come down to bonus points.


Tie-breaking criteria

If two or more teams are tied on match points, the following tiebreakers apply:

  1. The winner of the match between the two teams
  2. Difference between points scored for and points scored against in all pool matches
  3. Difference between tries scored for and tries scored against in all pool matches
  4. Points scored in all pool matches
  5. Most tries scored in all pool matches
  6. Official World Rugby Rankings as of 14 October 2019

If three teams were tied on points, the above criteria would be used to decide first place in the pool and then the criteria would be used again (starting from criterion 1) to decide second place in the pool.




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