International Rugby is in crisis, what is the solution?

Published on 15 October 2023 at 20:00

France is currently playing host to the greatest spectacle in World Rugby, witnessing some of the finest games the sport has ever seen. However, five weeks into the tournament it has been incredibly predictable.

There has been much discussion about the gulf between Tier One nations and Tier Three nations. Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand have racked up scores of over 70 points against the lowest rank sides of Romania and Namibia.

The lack of jeopardy in these fixtures has had many fans speculate about the future of the competition as there is a want to watch competitive rugby games but should the sport continue on the trajectory it is on then there will be an increase in these types of results. World Rugby needs to address this and provide competitions to bring the development of smaller nations.

Rugby Union has a total of 132 national member federations, yet there are only a handful of elite rugby nations. World Rugby need to address this, bringing the quality of lower ranked nations closer to the world class sides, bringing about a better spectacle for future World Cups.

How can World Rugby do this?

There already are a number of divisions, leagues and championships throughout the world, focusing on the continents that these nations are situated in. This is good for the sport but for nations to improve there has to be an opportunity for lower ranked sides to play the elite sides in competitions regularly to improve their ability.

One solution that has been touted has been the introduction of nations like Portugal, Spain and Romania to be entered into the Champions Cup to compete against elite club sides, while also working as a team to play regular rugby together improving their stature. There would be a number of issues with this as a number of players in these nations compete in the elite nations for clubs, some in the competition.

This idea may not succeed due to the financial implications that would be put on the elite club sides to help facilitate the growth of the sport in other nations. There would be a short-term loss for a long-term gain, but this never goes down well with current major sides in most sports.

The World Rugby League

World rugby announce in the summer that it would be introducing two new leagues that would take place across two years to increase the amount of competitive international rugby games, doing away with test series.

The first two iterations of this new competition will not have promotion and relegation but it will upon the fifth year of the tournament.

This is a positive step by World Rugby, but what about the smaller nations, the likes of Brazil, Germany or the Ivory Coast?

There needs to be an introduction of lower divisions for this new league with promotion and relegation to improve these nations, giving them the chance to play nations of their quality but when ready to make the step up they can, otherwise we may continue to see the top sides getting better while the smaller nations stagnate through a lack of games as witnessed in 2000 when Italy joined the 6 Nations.

The 6 Nations were looking for their sixth nation and came to an agreement with Italy to join, despite Italy not being as good as the other candidates at the time, Romania and Spain. Since Italy have joined, they have been able to consistently play elite sides and grow the gap between them and lower nations, while Romania and Spain struggle to qualify for World Cups.

The need for change in World Rugby has been evident for years, but hopefully the 2023 World Cup in France has demonstrated the desperate need to fix this problem now.

Brendan McGilligan

Feature Photo: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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