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Rugby World Cup 2019

Global rugby calendar proposal would devalue the World Cup, cause more early retirements and is unnecessary

  • World Rugby propose a 12-team annual round robin with semi-finals and a final, but it will just decrease the value of the World Cup
  • There is plenty of rugby to go around for the second tier nations as long as the top teams stop insisting on playing each other outside their own tournaments
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2018, 1:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2018, 11:37am

World Rugby is worried that the international game is losing significance because the vast majority of games are friendlies.

To make sure the matches still have significance and attract audiences, World Rugby has proposed an annual tournament with the top 12 teams in the world.

But though it might improve the signifiance of each individual match, it will devalue the signifiance of the World Cup.

Things need to change, but not like this.

The suggestion is that the top six teams from the Northern and Southern hemisphere will all play each other once a year – their existing fixtures in the Six Nations or Rugby Championship would count – and then the winners would progress into a semi-final and final.

The World Cup is already quite a homogonous affair – only four teams have ever won it – and what’s to say that the annual tournament will be any different? With Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand, plus a couple of others, bashing it out to win the ‘World League’ how will it differ from the World Cup except in format?

The bottom line is most friendlies are still significant. Stadiums are sold out for games like Scotland vs South Africa this November, or England vs the All Blacks.

With one-off matches, there is hype and speculation for the games themselves and then a buzz for the World Cup as fans try to infer each game’s result on their own team’s chances.

These are not the games that are devaluing the sport.

Instead, the new fad to play random games outside the international window that no one cares about is the problem World Rugby should be addressing to maintain international signifiance. Wales are playing Scotland in November. Scotland played Italy in Singapore last summer. England played Wales before they travelled to Australia two years ago. The stadiums are empty, no one cares about the results and both sides play ‘B’ teams.

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Part of the benefit of a global tournament is that it would give more top games to second tier teams who are in the top six in their hemisphere but do not get to play in the Six Nations of Rugby Championship.

Currently, Fiji, Japan and Tonga are in the top 12 and teams like Georgia, Samoa and USA would pop in and out and get their chance to play.

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These teams do need more exposure to high level tests, but a tournament is an unnecessary way to facilitate the games. If Scotland, Wales, Italy and England have time to play each other outside the Six Nations and want to put ‘B’ teams out, why not kill two birds with one stone and have them play Georgia, USA, Tonga, Japan and the likes instead of each other?

What’s more, the international game is becoming increasingly brutal and time consuming. Sam Warburton, the Welsh and Lions captain, just retired before his time because his body was not up to the punishment. Joe Marler, England’s first choice prop, stepped down from the international game because of the time demands of being away from his family for weeks on end.

The international tournament will increase this pressure as there will be less incentive to rotate squads if they are constantly playing for something. And, it will put more pressure on players time as presumably, northern hemisphere teams will have to travel to a few different countries in the southern hemisphere to ensure they’ve played everyone.

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Or, if World Rugby decide to host multiple games in the same country to take the travel pressure off, it will further devalue the World Cup as it will basically mimic it. And it will further decrease the interest as the home fans won’t get to fill their stadium as teams go hammer and tong in a distant neutral country.

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The bottom line is there is plenty of rugby to go around for the second tier nations if the top tier stop insisting on playing each other again and again, the World Cup should be the most significant tournament but will lose its purpose, and the increased amount of significant matches and travel will put more pressure on players in a time we need to be taking it off.