Now here’s a thought or three for World Rugby. It seems the ‘COVID effect’, combined with a wide range of recent changes and suggestions in rugby union, has given us a rare ‘blank slate’ chance to start anew.
You all know the problems – they are regularly trotted out – too many games, financial viability, format, travel, and so on.
Whatever the proposed solution, someone is bound to find a problem to bedevil that solution without having an alternative.
Hence we go round in circles and the ‘status quo’ becomes the ‘sedate-us quo’ as the issues persist and become tiresome.
Here are my top issues in no particular order.
- 1. Club vs Country – although overwhelmingly an Anglo-French mess, it’s a tail that wags the dogs of the Rugby Football Union and French Rugby Federation.
- 2. Lack of opportunity for the second tier and below.
- 3. Failure to thrive in regions of obvious major potential – ‘growing the game’.
The solutions must be cognisant of the fundamental truth and realities or else more of the above status quo.
As I see it; the most powerful force at work in rugby union is TV money; the basis of high standard of play and audience participation is local rivalry borne out of history and on-field enmity, and; convenient long haul travel as we now know it may not have much of a future.
Having set these out, there are multiple things that could be attempted and a few that should be aborted.
The Six Nations
This is a veritable cash cow and no change will be easily wrought if it might come close to compromising the revenue. Hence, any change of the rugby calendar that might move the Six Nations closer to or into Autumn risks losing the tournament in World Cup years altogether and will meet with stubbornness.
However, the elephant in the room is Italy. What broadcaster really wants to pay top dollar (or top Euro) for Italy making up the numbers?
You heard it here first; the ‘4 + 2′ model.
The top four Six Nations sides as well as the two next highest-ranked sides from Europe and Asia.
That’s Division 1, with Division 2 basically a reinvigorated Europeans Nations cup. Instead of threatening Italy with an ‘in or out’ decision, this allows rthem to qualify via one of two routes and gives nations like Georgia, Japan, Romania and Russia a route in.
At the moment Japan, are a shoo-in. Home Japan games would be the curtain-raiser Saturday Six Nations event. What broadcaster would not bid for that and those 40 million viewers?
Can the Six Nations move to Autumn? Of course it can.
In a Rugby World Cup year, it would merely require a slice of the revenue to grease the wheels. This should also happen by rights if the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship loses games due to a World Cup clash.
Anyway, Ireland particularly like the Autumn (Chicago 2006). Any naysayers do not just want the status quo, for they are the ‘flatus quo’ – although Will Carling said it differently.
Anglo-French club dominanceYou also heard this here first – I want the RFU and FFR to take advantage of the financial crisis COVID will cause by buying a majority share in each top division club of the LNR and Premiership. In reality, back in 2015 when the RFU was sitting on 150 million quid after the Rugby World Cup, they could have done this – but it requires a change to the legal status of the RFU first. After a few strokes of the pen, with this one act, the entire club vs country debate ends – forever. Note that the Celtic and Anzac countries never had the problem in the first place.
Big in Japan
The song remains true – “it’s so easy when you’re big in Japan” – the next closest competitor is ten hours flying time away.
Due to my earlier points about local rivalry and long-haul travel, Rugby now needs new local competition more than ever as opposed to Munster playing the Western Force.
If rugby is to grow in Asia it will only do so around the Japanese edifice. Likewise – Argentina needs to be the standard-bearer for the Americas rather than crossing ten time zones for a game.
To boost rugby in Italy – where it could rival France – the clear and obvious action is to share any French Rugby World Cup (a relatively frequent event) with neighbouring Italy for a start.
Italy is surrounded by potential rugby bonanza territory. The Teutonic races are perfect for rugby being big, disciplined patriotic and badly in need of an outlet for their aggression, as are the German men, as are the Austrians.
Why is there no Benelux league for Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg?
Does anyone believe the countries that bred the Vikings are not suited to rugby union? All of these are Eurozone countries where transactions take place in a strong currency and have big viewing populations all within one or two timezones.
There can be a global season and there must be stronger regional growth. I rest my case.
So, Bill Beaumont, where do I sign?