This week we have learned of World Rugby’s plans to be begin a 12 team World League commencing in 2020. Here are some of the key points and issues to help get your head around the concept and make a judgement on whether it will be good or bad for the World game.

HOW WOULD IT WORK

The new format would incorporate all the teams from the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship which would be restructured to include both the USA and Japan. Each team would compete against each other once annually. The competition would take place every year outside of World Cup year. The respective championships already in place would continue and the fixtures in them would count towards the World League standings. The rest of the fixtures, between teams int the Six Nations and teams in the Rugby Championship, would take place in July or November. These fixtures would replace the current summer or autumn tests. The top four teams would then contest the semi-finals and a final in December.

COMMERCIAL GROWTH CRUCIAL

The main objective behind this idea, as is the case in most changes to sports in the 21st Century, is commercial growth of the game. There is no doubting the appeal of more regular competitive fixtures between all the Worlds top rugby nations. An example of this is the fact that Ireland have never played either South Africa or New Zealand at a World Cup, therefore never in a competitive fixture. The potential for commercial growth in the USA and Japan is huge but the feeling is that without participation in such a global competition the platform won’t be available to exploit the opportunity for expansion. World Rugby chiefs also claim that one of the main reasons for the proposed change is to reduce ‘friendlies’ and replace them with competitive fixtures.

PLAYER WELFARE A CONCERN

The proposals have not been met with the optimism you might expect from what seems an idea in fitting with modern sport. This is due to many underlying issues, the biggest of which is for player welfare. Global rugby stars such as Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton have expressed serious concern. In the most physical of sports the rugby calendar is already congested, established international players struggle to fit in one months rest due to demands of both club and country. Bringing in more competitive fixtures reduces the chances to rest a few players on a summer tour for example. For such a competition to be successful the best players will be expected to always play. The already fragile relationship between club and country would be further strained by the extra exertions which would be placed on the shoulders of club players. Rugby chiefs will counter these arguments by insisting that as players wage demands rise there must be an inflow and that this new format provides this.

THE BEST AND THE REST?

Another issue is the sense that the likes of Georgia and the Pacific Islands have been hung out to dry a little. Promotion and relegation have neither been ruled out or confirmed as part of the proposals. If such a competition were to be based around the teams who deserve to be there on rugby alone the case for the USA, Japan and even Italy wouldn’t be the strongest. A fifteen of Fijian born players would on paper be one of the worlds top sides, circumstance often means getting the best Fijian players to play for Fiji impossible unfortunately. Despite this they have made an impact at previous World Cups and are currently ranked at 9th in the world, surely a nation of such wonderful rugby heritage should not be overlooked. When discussing the possibility for promotion and relegation one must remember that it would have to have a knock-on effect on the current championships and currently this has been ruled out by Six Nations bosses. If there isn’t an opportunity to promote a bigger gap will emerge which will devalue the global game. It also provides a comfort for those in the top tier who know regardless of results their position at the top table is safe. This on a sporting level is wrong as it would suggest that the desire for commercial growth would have surpassed the desire to watch the best competing with the best.

TOO EARLY FOR RADICAL CHANGE

There does appear to be a good idea in there somewhere but, from what we know so far, it is hugely flawed. The game is still a relatively young professional sport and it might be a good idea ensure that the fundamentals of the game are not altered too much during its infancy. There is no sport without the players and it wouldn’t be as exciting if the players aren’t treated with the care they need in order to play to the best of their abilities. It is also vital to encourage the closing of the gap between the well-established nations and those who wish for a seat at the top table. The best way for the game to grow is to provide opportunity to new nations not to close doors. Therefore, it will be key for the growth of the game that if in the future a plan such as a World League is to succeed relegation and promotion must be a component of it. It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out and must not be solely a boardroom decision as the input of players, coaches and even fans must be considered in order to reach a decision which bring commercial success but doesn’t damage the games integrity.

 

Written By Stefan Hamilton

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