Too often we hear about the gulf in class between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, about how Super Rugby is just a far more entertaining flowing game. Yet rugby as a global sport is on the rise, and could a global competition help this development as well as the standard of rugby worldwide? More pressingly would a global season even be possible?
More and more we see teams looking to expand their rugby, only this year Saracens played the Stormers in a one off game, while rugby in Japan is expanding more and more, with the success of the Cherry Blossom’s national team, as well as the influx of Super 15 stars in the Japanese League. Some players have even gone the other way, with Fumiaka Tanaka playing for the Highlanders. In a couple of years Super rugby is even set to expand into Asia in 2016. Internationally the All Blacks are set to play a test in America for the first time as well as Samoa, while Argentina have been able to progress through their involvement in the Rugby Championship. The game of rugby is becoming bigger throughout the world than ever before.
Could rugby now expand into a global competition?
A global rugby competition could see teams from the major national leagues, such as the Top 14, Super Rugby, RaboDirect PRO 12 and Aviva Premiership. Alongside these teams, Japanese sides could be included as well as this Pacific Island, American, Canadian, Argentinean and European sides from Germany, Romania, Georgia, Russia and Portugal could feature. However, one instant flaw could be the clear gulf in class between teams from lower tier nations and the best club sides. Nonetheless the improvements of Italian sides in the Pro 12 goes to show that game time and experience against the best is what is needed for these teams to improve.
The difficulty is working out how such a competition would ever work. Firstly, national club competitions would have to be reshaped or scrapped totally, which would certainly not make competition sponsors and broadcasters too happy. One solution would be to continue the established leagues, such as those in Franc and England, which can act as conferences where the top 4 teams qualify for the global competition. This would allow national domestic competitions to continue as whoever tops the league could still be crowned national champions, with the only major loss the scrapping of the play-off system. Relegation into lower divisions would still be able to continue, as the bottom placed team would still face the drop. The one major innovation would have to be to create a similar league for European nations, currently not involved, whereby some of the biggest clubs on the continent, outside of France, could compete in a similar league, with relegation to their domestic leagues, while the top 4 or so teams progressed to the global stage. Such a model could be applied with some tinkering to all the major international tournaments, with an American and Pacific islands conference added, in similar fashion to Europe. When the top teams have qualified they could go into a draw, making up pools in what would become a knockout cup competition, going on to produce a global winner.
There are major logistical issues with such a competition, it would almost certainly guarantee a shortened domestic season. The international window would have to be prioritised too, although global coordination could benefit this, and prevent farcical scheduling such as England’s tour without half their team for the first test in New Zealand this summer. Travel would be anther difficulty, the competition could either be held in one country each year, which would provide great exposure for the sport to smaller nations, but this would prove an extensive advantage while teams would be away from home for a few months. Or another option which will benefit players, is to take on each other in their own backyards, with Northern Hemisphere teams exposed to the harder southern hemisphere pitches, obviously helping when the national teams head down.
Nonetheless there is one major caveat for such a competition. A global tournament attracting some of the richest clubs could be detrimental to the sport in International competition, which should always be the absolute pinnacle of the game. If some of the wealthiest clubs, such as Toulon, or some of the Japanese sides, become involved they will want to win the competition, which means having a team of the best players from whatever country. A global tournament broadens the international market for players, and could risk the sport going along the lines of football, where teams are driven by money, and club competition is the be all and end all for many of the world’s best players. An international salary cap, or international restrictions, such as the selection policy of England, Australia and New Zealand could limit this, but would it prevent or only delay the inevitable?
Undoubtedly a global competition could benefit the game tremendously. It would offer exposure and excellent experience to the lower tier countries, as well as spreading rugby worldwide, with teams from Africa another area where the competition could go. It would allow these lesser teams to play alongside the best in the world, which will only help their national sides and producing even more competitive world cups. In addition some of the best sides would be able to develop as well with the best in the northern hemisphere having their skills tested regularly by the Super 15 giants, and we could finally see whether there truly is a gulf in class. Against some of the lesser opposition the best teams could also field some of their less experienced players, which would push regulars, as well as providing closer encounters too.
With rugby becoming bigger and appealing to more people than ever, could a global competition be embraced in the next decade? Would it be worthwhile or risk damaging international rugby and corrupting the sport with money? Would a global season even be feasible logistically?
While it is an interesting idea, there are many unanswered questions and possibilities, which only time can answer. So would a global club rugby competition be something you’d like to see at some point in the future?