As the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign heats up in Japan, Michael Cheika, Michael Hooper and the rest of the team are quite rightly focused on winning the William Webb Ellis Cup. But once our campaign inevitably ends without Bill as it has every year since 1999 – although I always dream otherwise – the executives at Rugby Australia should turn their attention to 2027.
France have already been confirmed as the hosts of the next iteration of the tournament in 2023. Tradition would say that the 2027 tournament should be hosted in the southern hemisphere, or at least outside of Europe. Argentina have expressed interest, with Uruguay potentially an option to co-host following their strong showing in Japan.
South Africa have put their hand up as they have for every World Cup since 2011. The USA have emerged as a dark horse as the popularity of the sport grows in North America following the creation of Major League Rugby. Australia have again expressed an interest in hosting with the hope of replicating the success of the 2003 tournament.
Rugby Australia should fight hard to host the tournament in 2027. Rugby union in Australia is struggling at the moment, with the general public quite apathetic to the sport. Crowds at Super Rugby matches are well down across the country, and the Wallabies struggle to draw TV eyeballs outside of the World Cup and the Bledisloe Cup.
Any Australian bid for 2027 needs something extra to appeal to and entice World Rugby to look to an Australian tournament as the best option for the sport globally.
Australia should work with Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to host a joint Pacific tournament that would revitalise rugby not just here but in those nations as well. Australia has the money, but has lacked a bit of passion in recent times. The Pacific islands always struggle with money, but have so much passion for the game that would only add to the tournament.
It wouldn’t be the first time the tournament was co-hosted. In 1987 Australia and New Zealand hosted together, in 1991 games were spread through the European Five Nations – with Wales being supported by England, France, Scotland and Ireland – in 2007 France were the major host but Wales and Scotland held a few games each and in 2015 Millenium Stadium held some games.
In 2017 Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea hosted the Rugby League World Cup. While the Kangaroos’ 6-0 triumph over England in the final in Brisbane was one of the greatest games of rugby league I’ve ever seen, the other undeniable highlight of the tournament was the Papua New Guinean sides’ home games.
Papua New Guinea played their three group stage games against the USA, Wales and Ireland at the National Football Stadium in Port Moresby in front of raucous sold out crowds. The passion of the fans made the tournament memorable.
Just like Papua New Guinea’s love of rugby league Tonga, Samoa and Fiji are rugby mad. The Fijian Drua’s entry into the National Rugby Championship was a Rugby Australia masterstroke. Rarely do Fiji and their Pacific neighbours get top flight rugby action, so the chance for them to host a few games of a Rugby World Cup would grow and strengthen rugby throughout the Pacific.
While crowds in the Pacific have never been massive, they are solid. In the Pacific Nations Cup in 2017, Tonga hosted twin sold out matches at the 10,000 seat Teufaiva Sport Stadium against Fiji and Samoa. Samoa hosted a match against Fiji in Apia in front of 6500 – with 12,000 seats available for any potential World Cup match-ups.
The Fijian Drua – while not the national team – still drew 6000 to a number of their NRC matches, while during a World Cup their ANZ Stadium could hold 15,000. Medium sized full house games at these smaller stadiums with ten, twelve or fifteen thousand fans packed to the rafters would only add to the tournament.
A Pacific-hosted World Cup could present some logistical issues. New Zealand is geographically a better fit for the island nations to host alongside, but it will be a number of years before New Zealand is in line to host again – and by then rugby in the Pacific may be lost.
It’s time to be proactive and grow rugby in the region. Flights from the eastern seaboard of Australia to Suva, Apia and Nuku’alofa are relatively short. Perth and Adelaide are further, but teams wouldn’t be forced to travel from the Pacific to Perth.
Australia would still host the bulk of the games. Of the 48 games in the World Cup Tonga, Fiji and Samoa could all host two games each. To make it worthwhile, those games would feature the home nations. Perhaps those six games could be towards the start of the tournament, before all the games move to Australia. Regardless, there would still be plenty of matches for Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne to host.
Everyone loves to see the Pacific nations do well in most sports because of the passion they play with. This vision for the 2027 World Cup would appeal to World Rugby, give those nations an opportunity to be part of the third biggest sporting event in the world and give Australia the best chance of hosting the tournament while growing the game in the Pacific.