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The international rugby system is broken. Here's how to fix it

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Exile In Oz new author
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17th October, 2019

If the saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” then what is the logical thing to do if it is obviously busted?

The topic of global rugby’s inequity has been a constant undercurrent for the last 12-18 months.

This conversation has taken many forms from eligibility rules, gate revenue sharing, the gap between Tier 1 (T1) and Tier 2 (T2) nations and incentives for players to not be eligible for international duty.

A lot of it boils down to parties that have a lot of power (money) not wanting to release any to other stakeholders who do not have a lot.

Some of the parties that have a little bit of power are worried that they will eventually join those who do not have much.

There have been some attempts to change the playing field recently, such as the global league, but these haven’t amounted to very much.

The fundamental reason for things not changing is the governance structure of the global game.

The voting structure for world rugby goes something like this.


Out of a possible 50 votes on the World Rugby Council Europe has 22, Oceania has ten, South America has five, Africa has five, North America has four and Asia has four.

On top of that, the Six Nations competition and the French and English domestic competitions have a significant portion of the financial resources in world rugby. To change the Six Nations competition structure requires all parties to be on board.

So now the stage is set what does a union need in order to be successful? There are many variations on how success is defined but I’ll lay this one out as a starting point.

“A successful national union can field a competitive international team, has access to a professional competition, has enough funding to support a feeder competition (either professional or semi-professional) and resources to support grassroots development (club rugby).”

Whether the country/team wins every year or not should not define success. If it did then there would only be one successful participant at each level of the game and that is not sustainable.

To facilitate success each union need to have revenue roughly equal to expenses (unless they have a sugar daddy like the French or English clubs).


Revenue is generated in a number of ways, but the main ones are ticket sales, TV coverage/broadcast deals and through public exposure which generates sponsorship.

The bottom line is that if the numbers do not add up then the ability of a union to be successful is compromised.

Does the mid-year and EOY tour format deliver these needs to the majority of unions?

My suggestion is that the current format does not meet the needs of the majority. The Six Nations countries are probably OK.

Kenki Fukuoka

Kenki Fukuoka of Japan (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

They get their travel paid for at mid-year and get healthy gate takings and TV rights for the EOY tour. Happy days for them.

For the SANZAAR countries it is marginal. Moderate gate takings at home and buttons from the EOY tour.

Although, at the EOY tour they do get good mass market exposure that can be leveraged for sponsorship revenue.


For the T2 nations the situation is not favourable. They do not get the big draw cards for inbound tours and they get very little for away tours.

Time to change it up?
Could the SANZAAR countries do better from their seven non-RC games per year than the revenue from the three inbound Tests they get?

Yes they bloody well can. In addition to doing better for themselves they can also do a lot better for the rest of the world as well.

The format of the competition does not really matter. As long as it generates more revenue than the home games and more exposure than four EOY games then it is a win.

Here is my suggestion for solving the rugby world’s problems.

In total, 32 teams play off in five rounds of knockout rugby throughout the course of the year.

This leaves two additional games that can be arranged outside of the RC and knockout competition. These games can be with anyone and have a revenue model agreed to by the teams involved.

If someone does not want to share then don’t play with them.


A team is never really knocked out of the competition. The losers follow the 7s format and go into a secondary level of the competition so that they get a full fixture list and the competition generates 116 games worth of content.

The seedings are the same as for the tennis grand slams so that teams get the opportunity to play against opponents that they would normally never see.

After the initial round (mid-year) the competition gets centralised to that the first round winners play in a single geographical area for the final four games. The lower half of the competition play in another geographical area.

Gate revenues are shared and TV rights are sold as a package.

The bottom five teams need to play off against the top five teams that missed out (33-37 in the rankings) for the opportunity to play next year.

Now here is a point that some may find contentious.

Dane Haylett-Petty


The Six Nations countries are initially excluded for the following reasons: a. Players are pressured to not represent their countries of origin at international level; b. They have not been acting in the interest of world rugby (revenue and fixtures); and c. They do not control their club competitions so that players are looked after.


They can keep playing with themselves and stop sponging off everyone else. When they agree to appropriate revenue sharing (come on England you could have given Tonga a wee slice of the pie) and stop acting out of self-interest (Italy and Scotland) they can come to the party.

In the meantime the revenue generated from EOY tours, that they share with the club competitions, will dry up.

This may force the clubs to either draw more from the private sources or lower their overheads. If this doesn’t occur then they will go broke and the national unions can step in and start to gain control of the club competition.

There is no need to have promotion/relegation in the Six Nations if another model is found that shares revenue with the T2 countries and gives them a meaningful fixture list.

By working together there is no need for a zero-sum situation. Grow the pie bigger, your percentage of it may drop but you can still get richer.