In the build-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, World Rugby paid for me to join the Tongan management team as the replacement for a coach who needed a knee op and couldn’t travel.
They also paid for conditioning coaches that were brought in from New Zealand, some of the best in the country, and sports psychologists who worked with the players on the way to approach Test matches.
Obviously a country like Tonga would prefer for that kind of support to be sustained for longer than just the build-up to a world cup, but it does highlight World Rugby’s commitment to making the showpiece event as competitive as possible.
Another example of this is the World Rugby-funded coaching seminars that are hosted in Stellenbosch for Tier 2 countries every year.
One mother body is bankrolling the development of rugby globally and often they’re doing that in countries where the game faces serious commercial challenges because it’s not the number one sport.
Even in some established rugby nations, those challenges are seeing clubs fold, regions merge and franchises in financial trouble. These are organisations responsible for the game on a much smaller scale, but when you measure World Rugby by the quality of the Rugby World Cup, you have to say the head office is in a helluva good place.
If you ask anyone in Cardiff they’ll tell you that Wales, the Six Nations champions, are going to win the 2019 RWC. Their current 14-Test win streak broke a 100-year record, they’re second on the world rankings and they’ve been tipped as genuine contenders.
Third on the list are Ireland, European champs a year ago and the one team with a positive record against the All Blacks since the last World Cup.
England will be close to unstoppable if they return to their form of a couple of years ago. South Africa and Australia have each won the tournament twice. The Wallabies were runners-up in 2015 and the Boks are upbeat after edging the All Blacks in Wellington last year.
Scotland stopped the Wallabies twice in 2017 and, while France are battling right now, they’ve been to three finals.
The All Blacks are favourites to win their third straight world title, but the gap is much smaller than four years ago when there was clear daylight between New Zealand and everyone else, and that’s one of the reasons everyone is excited about the 2019 event – there are more than five teams with a reasonable chance of winning it.
It’s phenomenal that the ninth Rugby World Cup, hosted for the first time in an Asian country, is lining up to be the most competitive.
That’s something to be proud of and, if you did an audit on the game based on the state of the showpiece event, you’d have to say rugby is in a great place.
People say the game is dying and World Rugby is an easy target for those who like to find fault, but that’s because a lot of the work done behind the scenes goes unseen.
The great thing about the FIFA World Cup is that no team has won back-to-back titles since Brazil in 1962. The last five soccer world cups have been won by different teams and that level of competition makes lifting the trophy so much more special.
Though World Rugby is often criticised for not doing enough to help Tier 2 and 3 nations, they spend in the region of £25m (R460m) per annum on grants.
When you work out how much funding they invest in all the rugby playing nations, it’s incredible. Roughly R90m goes to helping the Pacific Island nations of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji every year.
You have to appreciate how much goes into keeping the sport competitive because World Rugby wants to create a game where multiple teams have a shot at winning on the biggest stage. We don’t want a game where 100 teams play but only three can lift the trophy and, five months from the 2019 Rugby World Cup, you have to say it’s job well done.