Huge congratulation to South Africa for winning their third World Cup. They seem to do it every twelve years. But the stars were really the Japanese and their fabulous rugby team. For a game which is not essential to its culture, their games on television attracted the largest ever viewing figures in history. The world should offer a collective bow or two.
I have been very fortunate to have attended five of the eight Rugby World Cup finals but sadly for me not this year. Like perhaps a billion other eyeballs I watched it on television but fortuitously, on a beach in Bali. It was Tough to watch England go under.
The competition is simply too long – longer than both the soccer and cricket world equivalents. The preliminary rounds go on and on and on. Since its inception in 1987 no other countries have won it other than the ’founding fathers’ of the game: NZ and SA on three apiece, Oz on two and poor England still on one (and two losses). Interestingly, France, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, four of the essential ingredients of the Six Nations tournament, have never won the Cup. Moreover, only France has reached the finals – in 1987 and 2011.
It is worse, new rugby countries like Canada and USA have gone backwards in their development programmes. The wonderful and exciting Fijians, Tongans and Samoan players seeing the riches in the game move to New Zealand, Australia and now their northern hemisphere counterparts. There has been no breakthrough for Georgia or Russia and surprisingly Argentina has floundered. The only team advancing is Japan but count the XV which made it to the quarter finals this time and you will have seen, not all are home grown. The game simply has not become global.
Here lies the problem, for rugby per se. Too many of the second and third tier countries were simply unable to compete. This is not good for rugby. A decision needs to be made to have a different kind of World Cup.
For my money, I would like to see thirty six countries winning their way to 2023 in France but in three World Cup sections: Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 with the bottom two being relegated from Tiers 1 and 2 and the top 2 from Tiers 2 and 3, being promoted. It will never happen because the way in which the executive board of World Rugby is structured always ensure that the founding rugby countries seemingly always have the final say. This is because on its main council board, they have two votes each! You couldn’t really make it up.
Rugby World Cup will not be remembered for much. The Japanese were wonderful hosts and their team was the team of the tournament. Shame on the same founding fathers which clubbed together to stop Japan hosting the tournament in 2011. Let us hope that America, Canada and Argentina combine to present themselves as the candidates for hosting in 2027. Last year, I made a approach to both the North American RFUs but my emails must have been lost in the ether.
Of the games, none were more thrilling than the Japanese wins over a dreadful Ireland and a poor Scotland. Both looked tired and out of sorts. Wales were unlucky to have such a tough quarter final against France which fortunately for them went to the wire as they clinched it at the last by 19-16. It was almost a game too far as their semi final with South Africa showed. In international rugby you need a backbone of forty-five world class players. England showed this when they played out of their skins to beat New Zealand in the other semi-final in what had previously been an seemingly unbeatable XV.
Finally, World Rugby missed its biggest trick by failing to donate to the Japanese Disaster Appeal. They sucked $100m out of the Japanese RFU for hosting the event and at least double that from tv rights and advertising but could not rise to the occasion. Shame on them.