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Largest nations never to have played Test Rugby

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Roar Guru
19th July, 2019
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Earlier this month, I wrote about the dwindling numbers of non-rugby playing nations in the world, with just a few remaining on each of the continents – and none in South America.

Bolivia’s affiliation means all 16 nations have joined that regional association.

They have already played sevens internationals, and this coming week will make their XVs debut in a quadrangular tournament with three Argentinian sides in Yacuiba.

The list continues right down to the tiniest island nations in the Pacific. Niue and Tokelau have both played sevens internationals, and Niue a number of Test matches. With around 1500 inhabitants each, they are the smallest nations in the world after Vatican City.

So which are the largest nations never to have played Test rugby?

Number one by some distance is Bangladesh, which is ranked eighth in the world with 170 million inhabitants, despite being slightly smaller than New Zealand’s South Island in terms of land mass!

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A group of Japanese coaches apparently got rugby started in the country 12 years ago, and it has since gained affiliation to Rugby Asia and played sevens internationals, winning the Bowl competition at last year’s regional championships.

In second place is Ethiopia, 12th largest nation in the world with 110 million citizens. There is little evidence of rugby in the country, apart from a surprise appearance at the Safari Sevens in Kenya back in 2004.

Though it made the Shield final and received a standing ovation from the crowd, the Ethiopian sevens team does not appear to have been active since. A quick Google only brings up what appears to be an expats’ club in the capital Addis Ababa.

Third on the list is Vietnam, the 15th most populous country in the world with just under 100 million inhabitants. It is also the largest nation never to have played international sevens. There are clubs in Saigon and Hanoi, both of which compete in the annual Indochina Cup with sides from Laos and Cambodia.

Rugby was certainly played by the French in the pre-WWII colonial era but failed to take root with the local community. Even today the club scene is dominated by expats.

Myanmar, fourth on the list, is the world’s 26th largest nation with around 54 million people. Here, too, the game failed to catch on in colonial times (in this case of the British variety). The Yangon Dragons Club was founded just six years ago, and in 2018 hosted the Indochina Cup tournament.

Sudan comes in fifth, and with 42 million inhabitants is ranked the 35th most populous nation in the world.

Although there is little evidence of rugby in this country, it did make an appearance at last year’s Arab Sevens Championships. The team failed to score a point in half a dozen games but restricted Iraq to a solitary try in its final hit-out.

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Iraq itself follows in sixth place, and is the world’s 36th most populous nation with 40 million citizens.

It has been fairly active in sevens, while earlier this year the national XVs team played an unofficial match against a “Kurdistan” selection including some foreigners.

Afghanistan, with around 37 million people, is the 39th largest nation in the world and the seventh on the list of “rugby pagans.” There are a number of clubs, however, including Kabul University, Mamozai Youth, Hindokosh, Aryana and Khurasan.

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The nation is active in sevens, even managing to procure the services of New Zealand brothers Omar and Zakir Slaimankhel through ancestry. The former played for the Warriors NRL team before switching codes to pursue a union career in Japan.

Next up are Angola and Mozambique with around 31 million inhabitants each. The latter has played sevens internationals, as well as XVs matches against foreign clubs – twice crushing Swaziland’s Mbabane Cheetahs in the past two years.

Nepal, the world’s 49th most populous nation with just under 30 million, rounds out the top ten on our list, although it is affiliated to Rugby Asia and has played sevens internationals. Yemen and North Korea follow, with no evidence of rugby in either nation (according to this writer’s Googling).