In the African Regional Qualifying Process, 14 of the 15 eligible IRB member nations took part (South Africa had already qualified from Rugby World Cup 2007).
The Qualifying process began with playoffs in May, 2008. The 2008–09 Africa Cup doubled as the qualifying tournament, with the winner being Africa's direct qualifier. The runner-up of the tournament will be entered into the four team World Cup playoff for the 20th 2011 Rugby World Cup finalist berth.
The Cup was decided first by four pools of three teams with the pool winners qualifying for the semi-finals.
Two single legged playoffs were used to cut the nations down from the 14 eligible nations to the 12 who would compete for the 2008–09 Africa Cup. Preliminary round teams were the lowest ranked teams in the north and south respectively. Nigeria and Swaziland were eliminated in this round.