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October 10, 2011 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Underneath the flurry of media attention that is Dan Carter’s groin, there is a point to be made about this World Cup.

As far as World Cups go, this has been a reasonably tight one. Tonga upset France, Ireland beat the Wallabies, and on day two, Romania ran Scotland to the limit.

Nonetheless, we’re left with a group of completely expected quarter-finalists, and the greatest upset of the tournament will be if the favourites don’t win.

Yes, the likes of Tonga can hold their heads very high. Beating a top-tier nation is no mean feat. But that’s exactly the issue. At a World Cup of 20 teams, effectively 12 are there to simply make up the numbers. I daresay the Rugby World Cup is the only one that large in world sport with so high a concentration of second-tier teams—each with effectively the same chance of advancing. Zero.

And with future World Cups surrounded with doubt (with the All Blacks still to commit to future tournaments), the IRB has to do something big, and fast, to improve the global game.

One option is to hold a 16-team ‘second tier championship’ between World Cups. Exclude the top eight to ten rugby nations and host it in a second-tier country. Sure, it would take a bit of money to get it across the line, but in the long run it would develop the quality and exposure of lower-ranked teams more consistently than just their quadrennial media boom. Imagine, for example, Samoa lining up against Scotland in Suva for the final, and what it would do for the Samoan game. It builds the competitiveness of the Rugby World Cup too, another plus for the IRB.

I’m not proposing we take away from the prestige of the World Cup. And I’m not saying we take anything away from the sides who are the rest of the best, rather than the best of the rest. But it’s a move like this that could do wonders for the IRB.

It’s not to say that there is no value in second-tier nations’ appearance at the World Cup. They’re given a go on the biggest stage and are rewarded for finishing high in their pool. But criticisms have been made by lower ranked teams (namely Samoa) about their unjust treatment at the World Cup.

And how much more exciting would a Rugby World Cup be if there was not one but three, ‘pools of death’? Some of the top matches in the group stage of this tournament have been those between Scotland, Argentina and England. As the tournament entered its knockout phase, we’re sure to be given games of similar intensity. But that’s only for those sides able to make it that far. And in my opinion, the second-tier sides are a long, long way from making the quarter-finals. The current format is only making it tougher.

Rugby has taken a huge foothold in its traditional strongholds. The game is firmly ingrained in the Kiwi, English, Australian and South African sporting ethos. But the IRB needs to make a big move in developing the game globally. Whether it’s another world trophy event or otherwise, it needs to happen soon, because the lack of depth at the World Cup is already there.

And bollocks to what the IRB says. If the NZRFU followed through on its threats, a World Cup without the All Blacks in 2015 would be, no doubt, a shambles.


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