SA doesn’t need World League – Jake

Jake White

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.

- Jake White

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  • Hugo Pretorius

    The rise if Japan, USA, Canada in rugby also poses a challenge. What will be best for South Africa and for rugby? Good article.

  • Barry

    Agreed, less is more. The players seem to have this same view and most supporters are talking about too much rugby, so who is it then that does support this initiative, other than the board at World Rugby!

  • Wesley

    Agreed Jake, i think the first thing World Rugby is to sort out is an international season, whereas all players get to play for their respective clubs when required and have test matches set within a particular window as it should. This could open up things like long tours again, each hemisphere alternating every season. This could also reinvigorate the local provincial / club scene having some importance between the international windows instead of watered down as its now. The money spinners are there, with French international rugby could benefit most as their aspirations for European club glory with international stars has severly weakened their local talent pool. Couple of years ago the international season was on the cards, they now gone quiet and thrown out some stupid idea out there just to distract from the real issues.

  • SweetAz

    I disagree,-as usual. The problem is that we have too many professional rugby players, this move by World Rugby is a good one, it just needs refining by expanding the Squad size and substitutions rules. A Squad of 50 with a matchday team of 30 combined with rolling substitutions will employ more players for less total minutes introducing a lot more strategy to the game and managing player burnout as well as exposing more players to International level. Those are arbitrary numbers of course.
    A global season will be part of this with the RWC still the pinnacle event,-much like the Olympic Games still remains a spectacle despite the numerous other competitions.

    • William Botha

      Az – you don’t address the issue that Jake raises; diluting the product, salaries go up, profits drop again and then what? More is never More, it’s just the precursor to loss of the culture that defines rugby.

      • SweetAz

        Well William, have you seen how much football is being played Internationally every weekend? How diluted do you think it is? No mate, the problem with Rugby is that it’s far too concentrated with power residing in too few hands, it is why it’s NOT a global product and so vulnerable.

    • Barry

      Pugnacious – you can get tablets for that Lol.

      The problem is that what you are suggesting is not what World Rugby are proposing – larger squads rolling subs etc. It also has a very European feel to it – Europe conference and “rest of the world” and the Lions tour survives and everything else doesn’t!

      How are they to handle the global season from a weather perspective – will this also be Europe driven and do we get to play in the middle of summer, so we’re aligned with Europe?

      Sorry but decidedly uncomfortable with it!

      • SweetAz

        Yeah,I know, I prefer to call it out-of-the-box thinking. Of course, it will be Europe driven, rugby already largely is, its where the money, viewership and current base largely resides, it’s why we have the player loss problem. It also has growth potential with countries like Russia and Germany with large populations and stadiums picking up the game. A Global season is entirely do-able with night games, in fact, it would be a requirement. It also allows for more seats on bums as you could have mid-week games for less important fixtures. It’s also why I want larger squads,–back to a kind of mid-week squad. I know its not part of the proposal but I’m betting it will become part of the “negotiations” to get this thing over the line. World Rugby HAS proposed a promotion/relegation pathway for second-tier teams and I’m betting they will have to implement it to get the Pacific Nations and a few other countries on board.
        This is probably a good thing for South Africa because judging by what happened with soccer we would probably end up in the second tier given all the other things happening in the country.
        The world is changing, technology is changing as well, at some stage people will need to realize that Rugby has to compete with growing competition for people’s dollars and attention. As such the sport will need to change, as it is, with bigger and faster athletes there are far too many injuries, this will need to be addressed by rules and at some stage body armour for protection, –in fact we are rapidly moving to a time when these athletes will become like the modern gladiators. We are more and more entering the Panem et Circus time of this generation.
        I know SAFFA’s have a narrow selfish perspective when it comes to this, but if and when rugby evolves into a global game SA and NZ will have to make their peace with the fact that they will struggle to be Major players,–just like we don’t hack it with football, ice hockey or any other MAJOR sport. It’s already evident if you see what happened with 7’s, 5 years ago you would have been laughed out of the room if you suggested Spain could beat NZ or that the USA may be topping the 7’s table.—And so it shall come to pass with Rugby as well.

        Unfortunately, the Genie is out of the bottle and you can’t put it back, as an industry there is too much money involved to return to the days of yore, it’s like when we allowed Sunday shopping, TV and porn, once we started down the road to damnation there was no turning back. We now even have a black president, LOL—and we all know how that’s working out.

        • Herman Schroder?

          SweetAz or should I say Nostradamus ? To quote you ” seats on bums” ?? I think you’ve spent too much time ‘down under’ old chap. Cheers.

        • Barry

          Playing at night would sort out the weather thing for sure. Do you think the Europeans would be happy playing during their summer holidays?

          Yes I think you are probably right, World Rugby is telling us what is about to be implemented rather than asking whether we want it to happen!

          There is certainly need for change – I just hope they have it right!

          • SweetAz

            I doubt if they will get it right, based upon past performance. I suspect we will at some stage have a breakaway faction that will eventually lead to a reorganization of World Rugby, but I’ll probably be dead by then. The main takeaway is that amateur rugby is truly reaching end of life now and with USA involvement the NFL, NBA, NHL model won’t be too far off. As far as the season goes, it will be mitigated by players playing fewer minutes, more “timeouts”, maybe 4 quarters instead of 2 halves etc etc. Whatever can hold the diminishing attention span of the average viewer. The Kings and Cheetahs are basically already doing it.

  • Chris Mouton

    Spot on, Jake. I fully agree with you. Having a World League with lesser developed nations will give them valuable experience and funding in order to develop rugby as a whole. Eventually the World Cups will become more competitive, because the pools will be more balanced. Wouldn’t that just increase the value of the World Cup as a whole? When the top teams don’t play each other that regularly, it really improves the product. Just looking at the anticipation of England vs All Blacks or Ireland vs All Blacks last year was something special. Everybody talked about it.

  • Tobias B. Lombard


  • ryno

    good point of view. I see rugby going the same way as cricket: there’s too much of it. Friday night I saw something I never thought I’ll see: Newlands cricket stadium empty for a One Day domestic match between the Cobras and the Titans. We have too much sport. No matter how hard you try, youll never get the stadiums full again. unless… you skip Super Rugby all together next year.! i know it won’t happen, relax.

  • Errol

    Only one thing….You didn’t win the world Cup.Eddie Jones did it for you.That Albatros will forever hang around your neck.

    • Barry

      He got the job done Errol – at least he had the fortitude to get expertise where it was needed. Cheap shot!

  • Herman Schroder?

    Forget the World Cup as the be all and end all. Seldom does the top ranked team in the world win the WC anyway. The AB’s have won it the last two times but spent 25 years before that trying to win it despite being the best or thereabouts. This applies to soccer as well.

    There are far too many variables to say it produces the ‘best’ team in the world. Look at the poor refereeing decisions last time out that scuttled some of the better teams. SA finishing third is plenty proof that even poor teams can get through.

    A top tier league system with home and away matches in the autumn / winter of the two Hemispheres where the top team on the log wins the bragging rights is my preferred option. This also cuts out the unnecessary need for playoffs which actually proves nothing when a poor refereeing job can take out a far more consistent team. Compare the excitement of the Premier League in soccer against the dour knockout FA Cup where winning it is a bit of a lottery.

    There is probably quite a few ‘holes’ in this suggestion but what the hell something must be done to change the status quo which is becoming extremely boring. Anything to change the ongoing excuse used by poor coaches over a four year period while their charges fail under their watch – I’m planning for the WC is their usual lament.

    Apparently Rassie has already chosen 80% of his squad based on last years pretty poor performances overall so that makes absolutely no sense to me. He has conveniently ducked the 50/50 bullet by now claiming that past appearances off the bench will count towards compliance, yet despite that he has still not made up the numbers. Who’s fooling who here. The WC is overrated, get rid of it. Cheers.

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