Before rugby union’s governing body gets callouses patting themselves on the back, World Rugby’s council and executive committee need to swiftly get down to work and hone in on one of its strategic goals: maximise commercial values and increase the financial sustainability of international rugby.
At no time in the modern rugby era has this specific goal been more achievable.
Japan, with its significant commercial-based financial resources, stands on the brink of being recognised as a perennial top-eight contender. South Africa stands on the brink of being a perennial powerhouse able to go head-to-head each year with the All Blacks.
However, for the Brave Blossoms and Springboks, two very different but critical and timely decisions now need to be made and World Rugby’s backing would play a significant role in how this pendulum swings.
Japan needs admission to the Six Nations no later than the beginning of the 2021 season. A Seven Nations inclusion would continue to advance Japanese rugby and avoid the disgraceful manner in which the Pumas were forced to wait out too many years before SANZAAR’s bureaucratic red tape was lifted and they were admitted to the Rugby Championship.
No international side with potential can be expected to improve, or even maintain its standard, without top-flight competition. This is not rocket science, but World Rugby tends to have a history of pontificating as opposed to boldly leading.
You can almost hear the council and executive committee body politic now: “What about the travel distance? What about the time zone difference for TV coverage?”
The Brave Blossoms would fly to one of the existing Six Nations cities and camp out there for the duration of the 2021 season, trading off each season when England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy would play their away matches in Japan. Travel time is actually shorter than the longest hauls teams have to travel in the Rugby Championship.
South Africa’s needs fall on the financial sustainability side of World Rugby’s goals. Currently, under SARU’s rules, only up to 74 per cent of South Africa’s rugby unions can be owned by outside investors. The economic gates need to be swung wide open, allowing for potential backers to buy out existing ones at a premium for total ownership, or allow existing investors to step up and take full control.
Once fully privatised, owners would have all the incentive and rights to invest in a farm system, much like cash-rich western European football clubs. The model would ensure a much brighter and sustainable future for SA rugby and a perennial Springboks force would ensure increased TV revenues – the bulk of the ROI that investors and SARU would benefit from.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup may have ended on a high note, especially if you’re a Springboks fan, but the real work must now begin before any more backslapping.