Yesterday I shared a piece by The Scribbler (@RugbyScribbler) where he looked at the introduction of Georgia and Romania to the 6 Nations. I’m going to approach the topic from another angle as I agree that who teams play on a regular basis is important for their development. So what about who the top European Tier 1 teams play on a regular basis?
If we look at the top european sides at the last Rugby World Cup, England crashed out, Wales and Ireland came up short but were hampered by injuries. We can blame coaching or shallow playing pools but if it’s happening every Rugby World Cup are there other reasons?
England are the only European side to have won the Rugby World Cup which happened all the way back in 2003. That side were famous for marginal gains or what ever the term was back then. One of the things that they did was make sure they played the big Southern Hemisphere teams more often and importantly beat all SH teams away, before that Rugby World Cup.
New Zealand who have won it for the last two times play Australia and South Africa all the time. If we look at the top four they all came from The Rugby Championship where there are no easy games. When they host internationals in June and tour in November, all the All Blacks games are against Tier 1 sides. So maybe the answer is to make the 6 Nations more competitive and stop playing Tier 2 nations in the other windows. The 6 Nations should become the Tri-Nations with just England, Ireland and Wales. France no longer care about international rugby and when’s the last time that Scotland or Italy challenged for the title? In November play four games against the four Rugby Championship sides and already these sides rarely play a Tier 2 nation in June anyway.
I’m being facetious and think this would be a massive step backwards for the sport. However if your goal is for England, Ireland or Wales to win the Rugby World Cup, then that would be the best way to go.
Rugby must expand but the real question is how? I do find it interesting that it’s the European Tier 1 sides that seem to take the most flack about expansion. In reality these are the sides that play the most Tier 2 games at the moment. Below is a table showing the schedules for New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in 2016.
|International Window||New Zealand||Australia||South Africa|
|South Africa||Argentina||New Zealand|
|South Africa||Argentina||New Zealand|
In mitigation to South Africa they have included Namibia in the Currie Cup this year for them to gain experience and games. Australia though will manage to fit in 15 test matches but not one against a Tier 2 nation. However in contrast every European Tier 1 nation will play at least one Tier 2 nation in 2016. During the June window:
- Scotland will visit Japan for two games
- Italy will visit Canada and the USA
In the November window we have:
- France v Samoa
- Ireland v Canada
- England v Fiji
- Wales v Japan
- Italy v Tonga
- Scotland v Georgia
Whilst it’s something, it’s far from perfect for four main reasons:
- Romania, Namibia and Uruguay who were at the Rugby World Cup don’t get a Tier 1 game.
- Only Japan, USA and Canada get home games which are essential for building the game in the Tier 2 countries and generating revenue.
- For most teams it’s only 1 game a year.
- There is no tournament around these games that can be marketed and a guarantee that they will happen on an annual basis allowing for long term planning.
So how do we fit in at least another ten teams into top tier annual international competitions? Argentina are doing their bit by helping to setup the Americas Rugby Championship. This is in it’s infancy and Argentina are fielding their second string side but it is at least giving the USA, Canada, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile more games.
For the others it’s all looking a bit bleak on the tournament front, I do feel though that there is room to fit in additional games. In the past I have suggested that New Zealand, Australia and the Maori play Rugby Championship warmup games in the Pacific Islands.
To free up space for Tier 2 games in the November window, perhaps we should think of Japan as a Northern Hemisphere team. On a rotation, one of the Rugby Championship sides could do a three test tour to Japan. This would not only give Japan more opportunities but also free up slots against European Their 1 nations for other Tier 2 teams. A similar thing could happen, in time, with the USA and/or Canada.
On the tournament front, I have heard of a couple of suggestions for modifying the 6 Nations:
- Introduce promotion and relegation
- Have two pools of 4 teams then the top 2 teams from each group and bottom 2 teams from each group go into playoffs. Again the bottom team from the playoffs gets relegated. The main issue I can see with this is from a commercial/marketing point of view. Countries won’t know how many home games they will have and the playoff tickets will have to be sold in a week or two. I can’t see this working for corporate entertainment, which pays for so much of the sport.
The problem down south with The Rugby Championship and the newly renamed SANZAAR, is that New Zealand and Australia need the revenue from the South African market. The Pacific Islands will always be a drain rather contributor if introduced. Argentina, Japan and possibly Hong Kong, Singapore or Korea down the line, all have the potential markets to be contributors to the pot in time.
Whilst I can’t see how, the big three in the Southern Hemisphere have to come to the party and start playing Tier 2 nations. At some point the European unions are going to have had enough of the unfair advantage that the Southern Hemisphere fixtures give those sides. The civil war that could come from that situation would be harmful for all sides.