There’s been a lot of speculation about the pros and cons of the proposed 12-team World League which is set to be launched in 2022.
Money is the big motivator behind World Rugby’s interest in a global competition, but it’s such a fine line because making rugby bigger, in terms of financial growth, comes with its own dilemmas, as you can see from sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer. It doesn’t take long for the players to demand more money, salaries go up and then we’re debating when enough is enough.
Maybe this is me being selfish as a coach who has won a World Cup, but for the sake of rugby’s integrity, we can’t have the top teams playing each other every year.
In cricket, you’ve got the T20 cricket champions, the ODI champions and the Test cricket champions – so, who are the cricket champions of the world?
Do we really want to be discussing the same question in rugby when we’ve got the World League champions, the Rugby Championship champions, the Six Nations champions and the Rugby World Cup champions?
In golf, they’ll tweak a few rules, but the Royal and Ancient of St Andrews is still the home of golf and the major championships are still the major championships. It doesn’t matter how much money they put into other competitions, and it doesn’t matter who wins the tournaments before or after, the four majors will always be the unchallenged pinnacle of that sport.
Baseball has more money; golf has the richer traditions. Old school traditions are unique to rugby and it’s what distinguishes the game from rival sports. Things like the British Lions tours, the Barbarians and the haka are helluva important to rugby.
If somebody suggested scrapping the Lions, Baa-Baas or the haka, people would say that’s crazy, but we’ve scrapped the long tours that were such an integral part of rugby.
It’s my opinion that fans are hungry for the return of longer tours because those tours showcased the difference in quality of some of the world’s best players against provincial opponents, and this built up the anticipation of Test matches.
Top heavyweight boxers don’t fight each other every month and there’s a reason for that. But in rugby, we’ve started delivering a product where the same players play against each other all the time, only the jerseys and the name of the competition changes, and that diminishes the value of the product.
When I was a youngster, you didn’t get to see the All Blacks in person, you only saw them on TV, and when they eventually toured South Africa it was a very big deal.
Nowadays, you could face the All Blacks playing for the Crusaders twice in one year, and then play them in two Tests in the Rugby Championship, so you could potentially see the world’s best front rows go head-to-head four times in one season.
I understand why that happens, from a revenue perspective, but I’m not convinced it’s great for rugby in the long term when the Rugby World Cup is supposed to be the jewel in the crown.
Having coached in South Africa, Australia, France and Japan, I’m of the view that what global rugby really needs is for the teams just outside the top six to be developed into genuine contenders.
What ever happened to letting those nations play against each other more often and then measuring their progress at the World Cup? There must be other ways to generate revenue than selling off mini world cups to broadcasters.
Why not launch a World League that features Scotland, France, Fiji, Argentina, Japan, Georgia, Tonga, Italy, the USA and Samoa, and then have the top six teams in the world tour each other on an alternating basis?
Maybe one year the Springboks tour Wales while Ireland hosts the All Blacks and the Wallabies visit England. And then the following season, Ireland tours South Africa while Australia hosts Wales and England visit New Zealand.
Surely the obvious answer is that we can’t just keep having different tournaments for the sake of money. We’ve got to be very careful because once we dilute the product, and the Rugby World Cup isn’t the pinnacle of the sport, we’ll lose something else that we’ve been building value in for the past 32 years.