It’s been the year of the ‘make do and mend’ – a holding pattern for international rugby.
The Six Nations was eventually completed, but there were no July tours, no November internationals, the world champions excused themselves from the Rugby Championship, and Aussie fans by and large followed suit.
The top four teams in the world haven’t even played each other – no England vs France B doesn’t count, although how good were those French kids?
However it’s been a busy old year for the game’s power brokers, as the pandemic injected some much needed urgency into the need for rugby to develop a calendar and competition structure that actually provides financial sustainability and benefits its players and fans.
As I reported in my previous article, World Rugby are trying to reorganise the unstructured July and November windows into a single block with an overall winner crowned at the end. They believe that this will improve interest and revenue.
However resistance from French and English billionaire club owners has led to an impasse. To move forward, it was agreed to commission professional research and analysis into what sort of structure would benefit the game as a whole.
In today’s article I will quickly go through what looks to me to be the key features of World Rugby’s current proposal and whether I agree.
An October/November Nations Championship
This hasn’t changed – World Rugby are still considering an end-of-year competition to find the best team in the world that year.
But hedging their bets on using the existing windows if necessary if that will stop the clubs from preventing it.
If it brings much needed funds into cash strapped unions I’m all for it.
Status quo for Rugby World Cup, Lions, Six Nations and Rugby Championship
The competition would be every second year to keep Lions and Rugby World Cup years free. This would maximise revenue I think.
Also, the Six Nations and Rugby Championship would not be part of the competition and would retain their timings in the calendar.
Politically this would mollify the celts and Italians who are scared of being relegated from the existing cash cow.
For us, it would enable us to keep our clean season split between Test and Super Rugby. Maybe even facilitate a competition with Japanese clubs in June and July.
Some might argue that it will detract from the World Cup, but plenty of other sports have similar structures and they all clearly have a major event that matters most.
Genuine tier two involvement
Current thinking is to give the highest ranked teams from outside the Rugby Championship and Six Nations the opportunity to play in the top competition with the best tier one teams. You’d also have the lower tier one teams playing against the rest of tier two.
At last there would be regular genuine meritocratic competition between the tiers, in a way that won’t put tier one nations at risk of relegation from their current comps. I think it’s a great, pragmatic idea.
Pools and playoffs
The preferred option appears to be two pools of five in each competition, with semi-finals and final for the best and playoffs for everyone else. So you’d get a mixture of T1 v T2 and games with teams of a similar strength.
I like it. New meaningful competition without encroachment on existing competitions.
It is a chance for tier two to get properly involved without putting the finances of the top tier at risk. And much needed cash for our national unions.
A while back I posted that refs should do a countdown to prevent 9s from posing at the back of the ruck. On Friday the ref in the Bristol vs Northampton took my advice. He didn’t use a starting pistol though.
Finally, in breaking news, under Australian employment law Stan will be forced to honour the existing contracts of Phil Kearns and his Fox Sports colleagues. So no getting away from them!
That last paragraph is a joke. Sorry, that was mean.