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Opinion

The Thursday rugby two-up: Are mini-tournaments the future for The Rugby Championship?

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Expert
8th September, 2021
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The Rugby Championship enters a new phase of tournament play this week, with the final four rounds playing out not just in Australia, but entirely within Queensland.

With COVID infection numbers remaining low in the Sunshine State, the tournament is basically sweating on the strength of border patrols and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s stubborn determination to repel anything and everything from New South Wales above all else.

But given this is the second season SANZAAR has had to bin original plans for TRC and create a new schedule on the run, could we be seeing a new future for the tournament?

One that mimics the Rugby World Cup pool stages, maybe even to the point of playing games midweek and potentially compressing the schedule?

It feels like it might be worth talking about…

Question 1: Is the Queensland bubble a glimpse of the future? Should SANZAAR consider holding The Rugby Championship in a single country going forward, and encourage a return to proper international tours?

Harry
Yes, the tournament feels more like a tournament when the teams are in the same time zone.

Also, the geographical separation simply strips the championship of immediacy. In particular, the Argentine travel load is absolutely debilitating; the South African burden is almost as huge.

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However, I imagine the issue is financial.

I’ll be fascinated to see how the double-header in Townsville works: in attendance, pricing, and profit-sharing (or is just loss-mitigation)? Seems like it’ll be very World Cup-like in vibe.

Geoff
We’ve seen plenty of evidence in the last few weeks that, while they have shown they can work together and find solutions in difficult times, when it comes to the crunch, the SANZAAR nations are going to do whatever it is that best advances their own interests.

If having a mini-tournament in a single country provides an inferior financial outcome and creates push back from fans upset at not seeing all of the other three nations at home, every year, then this won’t be a long-term proposition.

Even more so if the proverbial finger is pulled from the bung hole and Japan and Fiji are brought into the mix.

I don’t necessarily see old-school, long-form tours as part of this same discussion, but if it did happen… where do I sign up?

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Brett
There’s a lot of merit in this, and probably a lot of benefits too.

The main one is certainly a great reduction in the amount of travel and the number of time zones crossed and recalibrated to, meaning once arrived and acclimatised, the teams can get on with the job of preparing for and playing games.

And a single time zone would quite likely make TRC a more attractive content proposition for international broadcasters, too, knowing that all games for the tournament will be played at the same time every week for six or eight weeks.

I’ll be really interested to see how these Queensland double-headers go, because from all reports ticket prices seem reasonable. Thankfully, the games aren’t too spaced out and so hopefully there isn’t too much instance of people leaving between games.

(Photo by Getty Images)

The ability to tour is quickly becoming a lost one in modern professional rugby these days, and it’s the game’s loss. Players can cope with a week or two abroad for Super Rugby, or the United Rugby Championship for the South African teams, but being away on tour for an extended period of time is a learned skill that can really add to the supremacy of Test rugby.

And look, if it opens to door for SANZAAR to cash-in every four or five years and play a mini-tournament in Europe and the UK, then why not?

Nobes
Definitely. Beyond the issue of COVID, the tournament should be played rotating from country to country year to year.

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I would only change that the teams play only once against each other and not twice like the current format.

Both changes would help not only economically but also in terms of caring for players who would not have as much travel and exposure.

It is a great advantage for the tournament organiser to have an uncountable number of players available resting at home, while the travellers have to juggle to put the 23 players on the field. More rested players will give a better game in theory.

Digger
It does make perfect sense to pursue such a model in the future, all things considered.

Logistically simpler, less travel, all appeal. Though financially, the big question mark is would it bring in the expected and required revenue for each participating nation?

That will ultimately be the deciding factor.

Question 2: Even if it’s safe to return to the pre-COVID home-and-away schedule of TRC, do SANZAAR need to repay Argentina and South Africa by playing the whole tournament in either or both countries in 2022?

Harry
All thinking needs to be long term, and less parochial.

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So, we need some sort of Golden Rule thinking to kick in at SANZAAR.

Geoff
It’s a tricky situation because, aside from their match against Australia, New Zealand is technically in the same boat as South Africa and Argentina, being without home Rugby Championship matches for two years.

And has hosting really been a benefit for Australia, or a necessity and a logistical headache?

My guess is that the four nations will be happy to rule off 2020 and 2021, thank Australia for a job well done, and move back to a more traditional home-and-away structure from 2022 onwards.

Elton Jantjies of South Africa takes a penalty kick

(Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Brett
There should be some serious consideration of this, even if the 2022 tournament was split in half, with the first three weeks in Argentina, then conclude it in South Africa.

Los Pumas, in particular, have given up so much over the last two seasons to keep the Tri-Nations and Rugby Championship going, and I think it’s only fair their unions are given the chance to showcase the tournament on home soil.

The revenue-sharing model had been created and utilised over the last two seasons, so this isn’t a matter of either country cashing in above the others.

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But it should be seen as an opportunity to build (and maybe rebuild) some goodwill across the SANZAAR partnership and ensure the international game is in as healthy state as it can be across the four nations.

Nobes
I don’t think there has to be a repayment.

Australia was in a better health position to organise the Championship at the time of COVID, and it was the best choice.

With a more controlled COVID, it would be logical for the next two tournaments to be played in South Africa and Argentina and then return to Asia.

Although, for economic interests, it would be best to have one year in Australia or New Zealand and the next in Argentina or South Africa.

Digger
Not sure repay is quite the right word for a situation well outside anyone’s control, but certainly Argentina, who have done it hard twice, should be acknowledged for their efforts.

New Zealand also will not have been able to host the Pumas or South Africa since 2019. As to who should perhaps get priority next year, I am unsure.

South Africa appeals, given the number and size of their stadiums, but certainly all efforts should be made to play in Argentina (if not the whole tournament), given their lack of quality internationals within their borders for some time.

OVER TO YOU: Should The Rugby Championship continue in a single country each year now?

And do South Africa and Argentina deserve the chance to host on their own?

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