Time for a rugby expansion rethink

Working Class Rugger Roar Rookie

By Working Class Rugger, Working Class Rugger is a Roar Rookie

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    Rugby in Asia is progressing at a very pleasing rate. With the exceptions of Japan and to a lesser degree Hong Kong, the overall level of the game is pretty even relatively speaking.

    However, it’s the likes of Japan and Hong Kong that in my opinion must prompt the need for the rethink.

    Japan have yet to be really be pressured in the Asian Five Nations format. Hong Kong is their nearest rivals by a minimum of 30 points and that was on a good day for HK and a bad one for Japan.

    More recently they have dispatched Kazakhstan by more than 60 and only yesterday humiliated the newly formed UAE side 111 -0 in Dubai. This disparity cannot continue if rugby in Asia is to ever aspire to a regionally competitive standard. Something must be done.

    First of all, I’d like to congratulate Japan in particular as its clear for everyone to see their massive improvement over the last four years and in a perfect world they would move on from the Five Nations in which they have vastly outgrown into a higher more competitive competition for the sake of their developmental.

    However, in this imperfect world they are currently confined to the Asian structures in place. So what to do? It would be unreasonable to expect Japan to lower its standards; it should be the exact opposite. The obvious answer is to elevate the rest of Asia at a far faster rate than at current. How? Competitions.

    Previously I have advocated club competitions, however, on reflection and at least in the medium term, establishing regional championships within the continent to provide greater opportunities for national teams and unions to compete internationally under the watchful eyes of dedicated development officers assigned solely to the development of each individual region. My suggestions are:

    Arab/Central Asian Championship – With the Arabian Gulf disbanding last season the opportunity now exists to create a regional championship to assist in the development of Arab/Central Asian rugby.

    Running two pools and including states such as the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Iran, Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Pakistan etc. The IRB could provide each nation with at least five more opportunities to play international rugby.

    The winner of each pool would then play off in a home and away format to determine the regional champion. This would tap into regional rivalries and provide them with a structure to build its grassroots works around.

    South East Asian Rugby Championship – Once again split into two pools and aiming to provide at least five more international playing opportunities this championship would follower exactly the same format and structure as the Central Asian Championship. It would be reasonable to include Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Chinese Taipei, China, Guam, Indonesia, India (at a stretch) and even PNG in such a championship.

    These two Championships would provide most of the Asian Nations with at least five Tests matches to add to the two or three they would already compete in with the current format. Keeping it regional would ideally keep cost down as much as possible.

    But wait, there are two glaring omissions from my vision. Sri Lanka and South Korea require a different approach, mainly due to in one case geography and in the other pre-existing participation and structure. First with South Korea, as with what John Kirwan has suggested the SKRFU should be looking to gain access to the Japanese professional structures. Initially starting at the bottom and working their way up. By being exposed to higher level of competition the Korean national team would see a considerable rise in standard, something that has fallen for some time now.

    Sri Lanka. With the second largest participation in Asia, Sri Lanka are a special case, one that involves direct development of their local structures without heavily relying on international competition. Rugby in very popular at Schoolboy level and is actually a reasonably popular spectator sport. However, they face challenges of maintaining those high participation levels into senior rugby. This will be the IRB’s main objective. To increase the articulation rate and elevate their top line championship (the Caltex Cup) to some sort of professionalism. Do this and Sri Lanka could emerge as a real force of Asian rugby.

    A key component in this is as above mentioned is the installation of a corresponding development officer or officers to work exclusively within these regions. There sole focus will be to work with the unions in an information sharing role to raise the standards right across the board. They will also be responsible to ensure the implementation and execution of grassroots youth development initiatives.

    John Kirwan has publicly stated that he and Japan are targeting both their Tonga and Canada pool match in the quest to automatically qualify for England thus opening the Asian seed they usually occupy. It’s a goal I believe they are very capable of achieving. This and the fact that Japan will host the 2019 event it is vital that the IRB develops the region well ahead of schedule to ensure whether or not an extra Asian side competes in England or Japan, they are competitive to the sake of the game.

    An extra benefit from this would be that if successful it would provide a blueprint in which to apply to the Americas and Africa.

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    The Crowd Says (56)

    • May 15th 2011 @ 5:41am
      Sherry said | May 15th 2011 @ 5:41am | ! Report

      First rate research WORKING. The logistics are a nightmare. And the disparities huge. The PI has a population of 92 m, while Guam’s doesn’t even reach 200 K. Assume Japan would have to subsidize the small teams and Japan will be financially embarrassed for quite a while yet.

      Also, and it’s a big also that should not be ignored, should such a league admit the killer authoritarian regimes that trample human rights? I don’t think so. If rugby’s a gentleman’s game we should only admit countries that are prepared to behave like gentlemen.

      • May 15th 2011 @ 9:46am
        Working Class Rugger said | May 15th 2011 @ 9:46am | ! Report


        Ever heard of Tonga. That little Pacific Island with a very similar population to that of Guam. They compete at an international level. You’ll also notice I mentioned this would be on the IRB to instigate not the regional Unions. Japan wouldn’t need to spend a cent as well in my models they wouldn’t be competing. Alongside this Japan would seek more and more test matches again higher quality European competition only featuring in the A5Ns.

        As for the killer authoritarian regimes. I am aware of the history of many of these nations, however, each one of the nations on my list already participate in the Asian structures. Each and every one of them.

    • May 15th 2011 @ 7:34am
      tc said | May 15th 2011 @ 7:34am | ! Report


      Good post mate ,I totally agree with everything you have said ,but just want to add a couple of things . I think John Kirwin is absolutely wrong in that Japan doesn’t need to be in the Super Comp ,well this is what he has stated anyway , if Japan wants to break into the big time in terms of true competitiveness with tier one nations putting two to four teams in the Super comp is imperative ,and must be as soon as possible . For arguments sake lets just say four Japanese teams were added to Super Rugby with promotion/relegation (this is probably the only way you would get them to join) then the rest of the Japanese teams join a pan Asian league with the top nations in the region . Maybe Colombo ,Hong Kong ,Dubai, Kuala Lumpur ,Seoul and Almaty to name a few could come together to truly raise the competitiveness of these other regions ,and with most of these cities being financial hubs ,this would be needed to get it of the ground . WCR with what you have said about how to restructure amateur rugby in Asia being correct lets not just stop there ,for rugby to be truly competitive worldwide in a generation ,we need to find ways to get professionalism into these markets anyway we can and I think Super Rugby is the quickest way of achieving this feat ,regional professionalism with Russia being an example will only bring it up so far but Super Rugby will take it to the next level. The IRB has to see these situations in the long term with one eye on setting up pro comps as the ultimate goal ,otherwise why bother.

      • May 15th 2011 @ 9:55am
        Working Class Rugger said | May 15th 2011 @ 9:55am | ! Report


        Japan have to concentrate more on their internal strucutures first. Entering 2 or so Super Rugby teams would be interesting but perhaps not essential at the moment. That said I wouldn’t mind seeing it. As for introducing professionalism into the rest of Asia. You have to start somewhere, my structure would intorduce regular regional competition. The point of the dedicated Development Officer alongside assisting to raise the levels of the nations involved, introduce youth level grassroots programs and work with each Union to boost exposure and interest regionally. In time and with adequate interest and sponsorship these teams could adopted compensation models.

        • May 15th 2011 @ 12:06pm
          zhenry said | May 15th 2011 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

          JK does not have any time for the present Super Comp, he can see through it, as most reasonably intelligent rugby fans can (who are not AUs). It has been hoisted for the benefit of AU. Get a comp that respects other countries needs as much as AUs, get a more equitable compromise and yes you would then have a foundation. In that respect NZ is crucial to guiding AU in the right direction. But whether NZ can even look after itself, pull its own weight for its own needs is another thing: After being financially dominated by AU (at NZs own Conservative request) for so long, I don’t know whether NZ has the intent or self respect to erect its own s–thouse. Not enough demand, too small, ‘forget about Norway it won’t happen in NZ’ sort of thing. Also the world is changing (but don’t tell the corporate media) Peak Oil is real and localisation will be an economic imperative and our wonderful international sporting activities will be curtailed, so I think JK is on the right track for Japan. Get your own house in order first, goes for all of US.

          • May 15th 2011 @ 9:17pm
            zhenry said | May 15th 2011 @ 9:17pm | ! Report

            s-thouse to satisfy our editors, should then be s..thouse. ‘Toilet’ doesn’t really fit. I thought the original was good plain (if gutsy) English.

          • May 16th 2011 @ 4:32pm
            simon said | May 16th 2011 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

            This argument is getting a bit tired. Yes Super Rugby is not ideal in evey sense. Yes there is benefit for AUS in super rugby, but there is also benefit for NZ and SA. In the end all three countries have agreed that Super Rugby is necessary to gain enough revenue to keep players from moving to Europe, and prevent all three countries from becoming feeders for the H Cup and other codes

      • May 17th 2011 @ 8:30pm
        p.Tah said | May 17th 2011 @ 8:30pm | ! Report

        Good article in the New York Times where John Kirwan talks about the growth opportunities in Japanese rugby


    • May 15th 2011 @ 7:50am
      jus de couchon said | May 15th 2011 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      The physical nature of rugby makes Japan a lost cause at the highest International level. They , like Sri Lankans , are too small. Better the International game adopts rowings “light weight” version of the sport.

      • Roar Guru

        May 15th 2011 @ 9:50am
        The Cattery said | May 15th 2011 @ 9:50am | ! Report

        Japan is capable of producing sumo wrestlers, which I estimate would be heavier than your average front rower.

        • May 15th 2011 @ 9:59am
          Working Class Rugger said | May 15th 2011 @ 9:59am | ! Report

          There are actually a few ethnically Japanese big boppers in the side this year, so they are capable of producing the big men needed to compete. More importantly they play big and with skill and speed. What they really need to do is take the majority of the ethnicall Japanese contigent from semi-professionalism to full time. At current only the imported talent can be considered full time professional players. Once this happens the Top League and national team will likely raise a further 2 or 3 gears.

    • May 15th 2011 @ 8:02am
      tc said | May 15th 2011 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      See guys i’m not just all hot air

      Rugby: Expanding horizons point to US, Asia – Rugby – NZ Herald News

      • May 15th 2011 @ 8:10am
        jus de couchon said | May 15th 2011 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        Yes you are. And a smelly one too.

        • May 15th 2011 @ 9:47am
          Working Class Rugger said | May 15th 2011 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          Real mature

        • May 15th 2011 @ 4:05pm
          kovana said | May 15th 2011 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

          Who are you? Too many personal attacks by you.

      • May 15th 2011 @ 10:12am
        Working Class Rugger said | May 15th 2011 @ 10:12am | ! Report


        Interesting article. So what I read in Rugby Magazine 3 or 4 years ago may very well have been on the money.

      • May 15th 2011 @ 11:48am
        p.Tah said | May 15th 2011 @ 11:48am | ! Report

        Others have mentioned it previously but I do think Hong Kong is an option for a super rugby franchise. The volume of money coming into the area from China dwarfs anything anywhere in the world. Someone paid $200m HK ($20m Aussie) in cash for an apartment recently. HK is a gentle introduction for westerners into the east and the easterners with the west. Its a portal for rugby into China. There is a small local rugby following but its the ex pats that keep it alive. A super rugby team would be well supported by the Brits, South Africans, Kiwis and Aussies and even some of the Yanks who socialise with the previously metioned nationalities. Those Yanks would also support the US based super rugby team and when they inevitably return to the US to live they could take their new found passion for rugby with them.

      • May 16th 2011 @ 2:20am
        enzopitek said | May 16th 2011 @ 2:20am | ! Report

        i’ve read this article and it’s clearly an “oceanian” point of view …

        From Europe, where we are a similar population (it means more than 10 millions people for each country), we dont need to mix with other country to create our own league for any sport.

        We create some cross-borders competions (ex Champions league in soccer, volleyball, ice-hockey or handball, euroleague in basketball, heineken cup in rugby etc etc …. ) to make more buisness

        But the local leagues are more followed (football german league is a perfect exemple)

        Japan have 120 millions people and plenty of the best companies in the world (excepted Tepco … off course).

        As John Kirwan explained nearly 6 months ago, JRU wants to improve the quality of its own league by recruting some foreigners coaches and players (especially if they can play for the national team) but it doesnt mean to mix with the Super Rugby teams.

        It’s better for them to help Korea and China as their markets are more important than OZ or NZ.

        ARU and NZRU need JRU to grow up their buisness but the opposite it’s not true.

        For the US, we begin to see some good projects to make rugby a professional sport (ex Glendale Raptors and Utah Warriors).

        A Super Rugby team will kill their own efforts.

        • May 16th 2011 @ 9:59am
          Working Class Rugger said | May 16th 2011 @ 9:59am | ! Report


          My model excludes Japan and Super Rugby for that matter. It’s all about regional competition among Unions that at present develop their own professional strucutures. Though if you read my commet on Sri Lanka I do mention I beleive the IRB should be looking to assist in establishing domestic pro structures their.

          My interests regarding Super Rugby and the USA is that the USARFU are keen on it. Yes, the Utah Warriors and Glendale Raptors have been encouraging (so have noises coming out of the Atlanta Renegades) but a present they still need work to develop the organisations. The USAR are looking at establishing a small Pro League in the nearish future. Accessing Super Rugby and the Magners League are attempts to open professional pathways for young aspiring American Rugby players.

          By the way, this is an Oceanic point of view. I’m an Australian and this is an Australian site, what else do you expect?

          • May 16th 2011 @ 11:05pm
            enzopitek said | May 16th 2011 @ 11:05pm | ! Report

            @working class rugger

            I didn’t talk about your article but about the one in the NZ Herald News which cannot understand that the NZRU and ARU objectives are clearly insane from a japanese point of view.

      • May 16th 2011 @ 7:42pm
        p.Tah said | May 16th 2011 @ 7:42pm | ! Report

        Interesting article in Philly Sports on rugby in the US


        – sorry WCR to put it in a thread about Asia, but thought it was interesting.

    • May 15th 2011 @ 11:34am
      Carl Unger said | May 15th 2011 @ 11:34am | ! Report

      The Philippines is a team to keep an eye on. They have won their division and have been promoted for the last 3 years and now find themselves in the 2nd division. Yet they do not feature in the IRB rankings.

      • May 16th 2011 @ 1:42pm
        Working Class Rugger said | May 16th 2011 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

        The Philippines are an interesting case. They are using the heritage angle very effectively and seeing the results. I think they will find 1st division more of a challenge than in previous seasons but I do expect them to be competitive and hopefully stay up. They played a couple of games against Hong Kong and actually ran them closer than HK competitiors outside of Japan have so far this season. They have also have been undertaking some interesating development projects. Good luck to them.

    • May 15th 2011 @ 12:11pm
      JF said | May 15th 2011 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

      Yet another criticism of the current SR format; it does not allow developing nations to compete at a higher level. If the format were changed to the European style qualification tournament, Asian teams would have an opportunity to compete in an Asia-Pacific Challenge Cup style tournament. Just as teams from Romania and Spain get a taste of higher level rugby in the Amlin Challenge Cup, so too Asian and Pacific teams could compete in a regional 2nd division style championship run concurrently with the 1st division SR.

      The current format of Super Rugby is of no help at all to rugby development outside of Europe.

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