CAPE TOWN – The proposed new World League, as it stands, is an insane idea.
As if there isn’t enough rugby being played already, World Rugby is planning on restructuring the international calendar by adding a 12-team World League, which would kick off early next year.
The competition will include the Rugby Championship and Six Nations teams as well as the United States and Japan – who would also be invited to join New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina in the southern hemisphere championship (as reported in the New Zealand Herald yesterday).
The format would see the teams playing each other once during the year, with the semi-finals and a final to be contested in the northern hemisphere in November or December. And all of this would be in addition to the Rugby Championship and Six Nations.
That’s just ludicrous.
Other than World Rugby just hunting financial gain, what is the point of this new competition? It will offer nothing new. These teams play each other anyway – in the Rugby Championship and Six Nations, and also in the cross-hemisphere Tests. So what will the World League really add, other than more international exposure for teams like the US and Japan?
There’s also the travel factor. To play a series of Tests in quick succession, while also having to travel extensively is just brutal. And one has to wonder whether workload, injury concerns and the quality of matches were even considered, or just potential sponsors and commercial benefits.
If the World League had been brought in to replace the Rugby Championship and Six Nations, it would have made more sense. It wouldn’t necessarily have been better than those tournaments, but it would have built a stronger case. Another shocker is the exclusion of Pacific Island teams.
While World Rugby constantly hums the tired “we want to grow the game” tune, how does it make any kind of sense to not include Fiji, Samoa and Tonga – countries that have been feeding international teams with quality players for years? Countries that could actually add something to a bizarre concept. Countries that have for far too long been excluded and simply neglected. Developing European nations like Romania, Georgia and Russia have also been left out.
Promotion and relegation would not feature, meaning a team like Fiji would be excluded despite being ranked ninth in the world. Georgia are 12th, Japan 11th, the US 13th, while Italy are 15th.
World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot has previously said the international game was under threat and struggling financially. But how will this proposal, which clearly shows no regard for player welfare, help?
The quality of the Rugby Championship will also be affected by Japan and the US joining in.
There’ll be more games and more travel, and we can also expect a more diluted tournament. Sure, the Springboks and the Wallabies have struggled somewhat in recent years (the Boks looked better last year, though, with a win over the All Blacks and a close one at Loftus against the World Cup champions), but those struggles will have nothing on the complete mismatch a fixture like New Zealand versus Japan will bring.
When asked for comment on the proposed World League, a SA Rugby spokesperson said: “SA Rugby is part of the process and our CEO sits on the committee that is investigating the possibility. If it holds advantages for SA Rugby and World Rugby and supports the development and growth of Tier-One and Tier-Two Test matches and enhances their value, we will support it.
“Having said that, it is very difficult to satisfy all the needs of all the unions of the world.”
Reports on the World League concept was also met with concern from players, including All Black captain Kieran Read and Ireland star Johnny Sexton, who feel the integrity of international rugby would suffer.
World Rugby yesterday released a statement on their website, saying the players’ reactions were “surprising” and that opportunities for emerging nations “are at the heart of constructive dialogue on the overall concept”.
Maybe World Rugby are just scrambling because of the backlash, or maybe not.
But unless the tournament will be run completely differently to what has been reported, this concept remains ridiculous.