What Does The Future Hold For The Rugby World Cup?
South Africa celebrate winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup (© PA Images)
For various reasons, the 2019 Rugby World Cup will be remembered for a lot more than just the rugby.
Between typhoons, debatable refereeing decisions, Head Injury Assessments (HIAs), dangerous tackling and red cards, Tier 2 nations beating Tier 1 sides – there’s a lot to mull over.
Japan came out of it as fantastic host nations with a brilliant team, but did it capture the imagination in Europe? In all honesty, no, certainly not in Ireland anyway, and only in England once they upset the odds to beat New Zealand in the semi-final.
Over here, it wasn’t talked about anywhere near as much as I expected it to be, although I think Ireland’s performance – or lack thereof – played a big part in that.
When we look back on the 2019 event and ask ourselves ‘where were the best stories?’ you look towards the underdog performances of Japan, Fiji and Uruguay – teams that came out of nowhere and put in performances and in some cases got results that everybody was talking about.
The Tier 2 nations were playing brands of rugby union that fans were willing to get behind. And when you have so-called weaker teams playing this free-flowing style of rugby against one another, at times it was much more exciting to watch than the Tier 1 teams facing off.
It felt a little bit more raw, open, not as choreographed and straight-off-the-training-ground style we got used to when the bigger teams met. It resulted in the likes of Japan cutting open Ireland and Scotland quite easily by playing a different type of rugby.
What Now For RWC?
This has led me to wonder – where does the game go from here? I’ve come to the conclusion that World Rugby now have a big responsibility to these Tier 2 nations to ensure that the future of the Rugby World Cup isn’t just the same old six or seven teams competing for the Webb Ellis Cup every four years.
It’s in danger of becoming that and if they’re not careful the strong will get stronger and the weak will stay the same, or even regress. That’ll only happen if they’re not given an opportunity to catch up and, if they are denied a fair shot, the game will never expand or be as good and globally popular as it can be.
Japan are a prime example of what can be achieved when money, time, patience and efficiency is put into developing rugby over a relatively short period of time.
Granted, the Brave Blossoms are fortunate in that they’re a rugby nation with significant funding behind them, their league being financially backed by big multi-national companies, which enables them to attract the influences of players and coaches from all over the world.
All that, in turn, influences training techniques, mentality and ability. The result of Japan’s approach was national head coach Jamie Joseph inheriting a squad of players operating at a fairly decent level which allowed him to come up with a game-plan that saw them become the first Asian nation to reach the Rugby World Cup knockout stage.
The moral of the story is, if money is invested into a Tier 2 country, and it’s spent wisely on coaching facilities and knowhow, then we’ll see more secondary nations compete at a high level and earn respect, like Japan have.
Tier 1 Teams Can Cope
Of course, if funding for the Tier 1 nations was to be cut back so Tier 2 nations could be given a fairer crack of the whip, there would be outcry. But the reality is the bigger countries – like New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and the Six Nations group – can do ok without the extra income.
Most of them already make a lot of money out of sponsorship deals and when you look at the All Blacks in particular, they’re a brand within themselves. It’s not just through the Rugby Championship that they make a lot of money, Adidas are pumping tens of millions into them based on their brand.
Take my word for it, New Zealand – the Springboks and the Wallabies too – will be fine if World Rugby take a bit of their funding and allocate it elsewhere. The sport’s governing body needs to act fast, otherwise we’ll just have the same scenario whereby the usual suspects are battling it out in the last four at France 2023.
Meanwhile, I like the point Brian Moore made about having a secondary competition within the Rugby World Cup. He reckons there should be something tangible for the Tier 2 teams to play for, rather than simply making up the numbers every four years.
The former England international proposed that rather than having a third and fourth place playoff – which nobody really enjoys anyway – you pit the two best performing Tier 2 nations against each other with a substantial monetary prize as well as the glory of winning a trophy.
That would honestly become the biggest thing in their calendar every four years, rather than just taking part. I suppose it would be a bit like the point of the Challenge Cup, to give lesser teams a platform on which to build.
It’s an idea I think World Rugby should look at seriously and hopefully some sort of concept can be implemented in time for the next World Cup.
In the meantime, congratulations to 2019 winners South Africa. They got the job done when many – including the top bookmakers – made England the big favourites in the final.
The Springboks proved everybody wrong with a convincing 32-12 win, pulled out an amazing performance in the final and I don’t think that too many would argue that they were simply outplayed on the day.
Roll on France 2023 when I hope we’ll see a more engaging tournament with more competitive games.
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