The Sleeping Giants of World Rugby

Ever since the rise to prominence of the international game in Rugby Union there have been a select few nations who have always dominated the top of the world rankings and fought it out in the latter stages of the World Cup’s.

Recent years have seen the rapid rise of nations such as Italy and Argentina who have since joined the Six Nations and Rugby Championship respectively. Whilst these teams have now been competing at the top level for a number of seasons they seem to have reached a bit of a glass ceiling and look to be struggling to break into the very top ranks of world rugby.

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Whilst it would be fantastic to see Argentina and Italy challenging for honours in future World Cup’s I can’t help but feel this seems unlikely without a huge shift in momentum for countries so widely dominated by football.

There are however a new breed of rugby nations who are beginning to tap into their huge natural reserves of talented athletes for the purpose of nurturing a talented national side that is building towards the future. Although it currently looks unlikely any of these sides will be challenging for the World Cup in 2015 the vast financial resources being poured into the game in these countries could see them emerging as a genuine contender for the 2019 World Cup.

Here I take a look at 3 of the sides I believe who have a bright future in the game;

USA

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Despite sitting in 18th place in the current IRB World Rankings (4 places below Canada) I can’t help but feel that the USA will be a force to be reckoned with sooner rather than later.

Let’s face it, the USA is a country with huge natural and financial resources that they seem more than happy to plough into world class sports. Now despite top level sport in the US being focussed mainly on domestic games such as American Football, Basketball and Baseball, there does seem to have been a recent trend for them to take to less traditional American sports – just look at the rapid rise of the USA Football team in recent World Cups.

It now finally seems the country is beginning to embrace rugby with plans to introduce a domestic league with the support of already established sports teams in the country. This will provide a firm foundation for any aspiring rugby players in the country to properly develop and be regularly exposed to top level competition week-in week-out.

The pool of players who drop out of the NFL at various stages also provides a talent group who are already perfectly conditioned for rugby, even if they may lack some of the basics skills. There are also drop-outs from other major US sports (just look at Carlin Isles) who can be drafted into the rugby talent pool ready to be moulded into a competitive international side.

Although this will not happen overnight there seems plenty of opportunity for the USA to rapidly ascend the world rugby rankings over the coming years ready to make a genuine challenge for the World Cup in 2023, if not earlier.

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Japan

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The Japanese national side have been on many peoples radars ever since they were announced as the hosts of the 2019 World Cup. Their victory over Wales this summer only helped to further heighten the buzz around the team. Although the team only sit 15 in the IRB rankings currently there seems to be a groundswell of opinion that they could be serious contenders come 2019.

The club game in Japan is growing at an astonishing pace thanks to the financial backing of some of the countries biggest brands. This financial clout has allowed them to attract star names such as Sonny Bill Williams, Ma’a Nonu and George Smith to the league to name but a few recently. The monetary rewards have also helped to attract some of the best coaching talent in the world into the country.

Under the stewardship of Eddie Jones the Japanese side have been steadily building towards the World Cup in 2019. Although the team and player still remain relatively unknown the emergence of talents such as Fumiaki Tanaka who is currently playing for the Highlanders in the Super XV shows that there is plenty of potential within the country.

I can’t help but feel that with the financial resources at their disposal and the incentive of a home World Cup that Japan will be a team to keep a close eye on over the next few years. They now have 6 years to bring through as much talent as possible ready to make a challenge for the title on home soil. Although it will be a tough ask, I believe the home support will buoy them on to at least the latter rounds of the knock-out stages.

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Russia

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Currently sat in 19th in the IRB world rankings I can’t help but feel we will be seeing them closing in on the top 10 over the next few years. Although the Russians may lack the huge financial support afforded to the Japanese sides they have a huge pool of potential talent just waiting to fill the ranks of the Bears.

Recent seasons have seen players such as Vasiliy Artemyev, Kirill Kulemin and Andrei Ostrikov playing their trade in the Premiership. There are also a number of Russians playing in other top domestic leagues across Europe which can only help to benefit the national team. The one constraint is that the Russian Federation can be finicky about selecting players based outside of their own domestic league. If they can get over this however they will have access to a wealth of talent who regularly play in the top competitions in Europe.

There are also a number of unheralded players currently making a name for themselves domestically in Russia such as Denis Simplikevich  and Vladimir Ostroushko. With the recent Sevens World Cup having been held in Russia there seems to be a genuine interest in the game across the country which can only help widen their playing pool.

If the Russian national side can start to compete on a regular basis against teams ranked in the top 10 globally then there is plenty of potential for them to emerge as a real force within the game globally.

Alongside the three aforementioned sides the likes of Brazil and Kenya could be set to build on the growing popularity of the sport within their countries. Who do you think will be able to break into the IRB top 10 over the next few years?

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4 comments

  1. Dear author of this article (there is no name mentioned),

    Of course this is your thoughts and opinion, and of course you can express them. However, I think you are partially mistaken, and your declaration about seeing USA and RUSSIA in TOP Ten of IRB rankings, is more “wishfull” thinking rather than objective reality.

    Frankly speaking despite of Japan’s huge progress and their definite mightiness, I think the way to firmly set up in top 10 is quite a long and difficult one. However, I agree that Japan is a sleeping giant, but USA less possible and Russia is not possible at all in nearest future (I mean much more than 10 years).

    Why? Because, you have missed or forgot, two real sleeping giants, GEORGIA ! and ROMANIA ! Moreover, if you call Russia and USA giants than GEORGIA and ROMANIA are mega-giants. Romania had hard times, however they are coming back and developing. As for Georgia it unstoppably moving forward guided by clever strategy and funding from government, there is a special government program – Rugby Development Program. Plus, got some commercial sponsors contribution of which is also important. Than, Georgia has more than 20 people playing in top 14, and much more in other leagues, quality of which is not too far from top 14. We have real international starts: Mamuka Gorgodze of Toulon (moved there from Montpelier), David Zirakishvili of Clermont and others that are near to that status. And finally, look at statistics of GEORGIA – RUSSIA and ROMANIA – RUSSIA matches.

    Therefore, if we all be optimistic, in ten years, along with Japan the most realistic candidate for being in top 10 of IRB rankings is first of all GEORGIA.

    • Agreed.
      Georgia also have a good U20 and U18 teams beating Italy, for example.

    • Agree entirely. Georgia are a team that nobody will want in their group next year. The Georgia matches against Tonga and Argentina are two matches that I am looking forward to a Hell of a lot.

  2. This should be Samoa, Canada and Georgia. Samoa should be looking to solidify themselves as Tier 1 nation in the next 5 years and Canada are making massive progress in getting their top talent into Europe’s top leagues. I don’t think it ever will happen (mainly for financial and logistical reasons) but Georgia are a side that could be competing in the 6 nations (if it were to ever be expanded), they could definitely give Italy a run for their money and the Scotland of 2013 (Since the 2014 Autumn series Vern Cotter has got them looking sharp).

    Fair enough Japan with the Super 15 side they might be able to muscle into the Top 10, but playing in the Asian 5 Nations is really a waste of their time. There really needs to be a decent, annual competition for Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Japan, USA, Canada, Georgia and Romania if these teams are ever going to make Tier 1 standard

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