World League: Yes or No?

News of a proposed World League featuring the top 12 Test nations sparked a frenzy in the global rugby community last week. The AOR team wades in to debate the pros and cons.

Tank Lanning – YES
Even if just to witness England’s June tour of Japan, South Africa and Argentina, I am for the proposed World League!

A normal Super Rugby jaunt for our boys, yet now it has the players concerned about long-haul flights and playing in different time zones. How come only when the Northern Hemisphere sides are being asked to do it?

I also find it slightly disingenuous for the Southern Hemisphere players spending their off-season in Europe or Japan to start complaining about player load. Especially when the proposed 11 games (13 for those that make the final) is actually less than most are playing at the moment.

Might the player uppity-ness be more about keeping lucrative club contracts, I wonder?

Franchises, provinces, and even clubs may come and go, but countries will always be here. It’s important to keep international rugby as the pinnacle of the sport.

World Rugby had to do something on the international front to combat the cash flowing into the club game in Europe. They have now done that and it is core to Test rugby’s survival.

In effect, the incoming June tour would be replaced with three Tests versus different Northern Hemisphere sides. And in the Rugby Champs, there would be Japan and USA Tests instead of second Tests against Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. With a potential 2 extra Tests on EOYT if the Boks make the semis and final.

Rugby World Cup years would be sans the proposed World League games, as would the years in which there is a Lions tour, so there is space for good old fashioned tours – Vital!

So we move away from being completely obsessed with World Cup years, recognise regular performance, make the Bok vs All Black game more exclusive, keep Test rugby relevant, and generate money to power second tier comp that allows for promotion and relegation.

What’s there not to like? I love it!

Zelím Nel – NO
Any initiative to consolidate and showcase rugby’s best players and/or teams into one premier, annual tournament gets my vote. The Rugby World Cup is exactly that, but global spectators only get to see rugby in such context once every four years.

Outside of the Rugby World Cup, the game is divided into comps where the winners get regional bragging rights. It’s diluted and, unless you’re connected to one of those regions, pretty meaningless. The European audience doesn’t really care who wins Super Rugby, and the Sanzaar audience generally couldn’t be arsed with the Heineken Cup.

Rugby is still coming to grips with the principle that money is what decides whether a pro sport lives or dies.

Instead of investing revenue in the infrastructure and marketing needed to grow a concentrated audience through appeal, Sanzaar spends a big chunk of its revenue flying teams across the planet to perform in front of half an audience while the other half is sleeping.

And that’s one of two reasons why a World League of nations is a bad idea – having regional fans spread latitudinally across the globe delivers a competition that can never be digested by the whole audience at any one time.

The other is that World Rugby doesn’t have the kahunas to repackage the game for mass market appeal, they want to position a World League around existing tournaments like you might lay wors around chops on a full braai-grid. That’s a shortcut to a punctuated competition with no real impetus that ends with a “ICYMI: New Zealand won” headline.

No, rugby needs a marquee, annual competition (separate from Test rugby) where the best players are pooled into privately-owned franchise teams that compete in a league where there’s maximum exposure to current fans.

This would require a narrow band of times zones such as is provided by pivoting the league around -0° longitude which runs in proximity to London and is close enough to Dublin in the west and Durban in the east to make it a sweet-spot for potential broadcasters.

Pad those 12 teams with the best imported Kiwis, Aussies, Pacific islanders, Japanese, Argentine and North American players that money can buy, and you’ll have something that the world will sit up and take notice of between Rugby World Cups.

You’ve read what they think, now let us know where you stand in The Big Debate!

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • boyo

    I am against it for a couple reasosn

    1) It will devalue the WC.

    2)We see virtually no effort from the 6 nations teams to grow the game(as usual)their status quo remains for them with the 6 nations unaffected and only bi-annual promotion relegation games. What about Georgia etc?

    3) We get an eroded the rugby championship(if any). We will replace our second games against the ozzies and New Zealand with games against Japan and USA. That is going to be tough to sell to crowds.

    4) Tours which allowed 3 games against a decent NH side are gone and we will see even more second rate squads sent down for the tours while the North rests their players from the arduous journeys at the end of their season.

    • John Comyn

      Why will it devalue the WC? It’s played over a month and a half once every 4 years and is a knock out format. If your side goes out in the pool stages that’s it! Game over no more WC. It’s a completely different format to what is being proposed. .

      • Boyo

        A yearly tournament to determine the best team in the world that includes a semi and a final woukd to my mind completely invalidate a WC

  • Barry

    As with any successful business strategy, you first need to consider the fine detail, before you can rubber stamp it!

    We have been dished up the broad brush concept only and as such we really don’t have enough information to make an informed decision!

    We have suffered a very one sided agreement for years with our SANZAR partners, so I would offer a word of caution before we leap into another.

    As things look at present, it seems very Europe dominant!

    • SweetAz

      .Barry, that’s actually to our advantage as SA shares timezones with Europe and the travel is a much shorter distance. I have always believed it is a much better “fit” for SA to be aligned with Europe than with NZ/Arsetralia. SA would get much more prime viewing time exposure. As it is now you have to be a real diehard fan and set your alarm clock to watch games at friggin 2 and 4AM.

      • Barry

        Sweet in running through WR presentation, the understanding is the rest of the world sides will operate much along the lines of the current Rugby Championship. So regional games will be home and away against the various sides.

        So for example Australia will have most games within in short hall range in similar time zone and then two long haul flights SA & Argentina. SA will have a minimum of three long hauls maybe more, because there are two more teams in the conference and they are in the NZ Australia time zone!

        There will be more travel for SA teams not less!

  • Safmarine

    Tank has convinced me. I agree due to the fact that we have become RWC obsessed and it seems performance in the in between years has become meaningless, especially for the Boks (the AB’s, Ireland and to a lesser extend the English pride themselves in maintaining a standard of excellence in the three non world cup years).
    ‘Tis true that lucrative club money is the driver and this proposed league can go some way to mitigating that influence.
    Superrugby travel is a much bigger concern for SA teams and after Japan and the player exodus north, something drastic will need to be done. I see the future of our franchises in Europe anyway…

  • Wesley

    I’m gonna stay out of this one, as both Tank and Zelim in this argument have some good points, and equally bad points in my opinion. My standing is for WR to first look at getting a global season in place before combining and Frankensteining existing competitions.

  • John Comyn

    Tank is making a lot of sense. Like I said to my last girlfriend “lets spice things up a bit”. Frankly our rugby championship has become a bore fest. At least the 6 nations is competitive. Down South the tournament is pretty much over by the 3rd or fourth game. So much so that most superbru predictions are close to 100%. I’m guessing even the Kiwis would like to see the competition being competitive. It would be great to see all the teams competing over a period of a year culmination in the final. How could it possibly take away from the WC which is played every 4 years over a condensed period of time.

  • Barry

    I posted earlier on this subject in a neutral vein, because I believe there is just not enough information available to make a decision. However, in reading the follow up views, I am fairly convinced that people have not listened carefully to the World Rugby video release on this, giving details on how it will work. As such I am firmly with Zelim on this one, ploughing ahead with this would be irresponsible and gung ho!!

    Do the people that are pro this venture, realise that the “Six Nations” competition WILL SURVIVE, whilst the Rugby Championship will FALL AWAY??

    Oh, and the Lions tour also gets to survive – does it not have a bit of a Northern dominance feel to you??

    More so, when will the rest of the World play their games? We are told that the Europe conference will end their Northern hemisphere rounds in April and the play off’s of North verses Rest of World will be in November, but no news at all about the time when The Rest of The World get their conference round done – I guess unimportant to those in the North!!. Without that information, we have no idea how that will impact on our domestic /Club/Franchise rugby, so prey gents, how can we responsibly tick that box without having the details???

    Once the guys in the North have finished their rounds in Europe, they will then play Six further games against the Rest of the World. Fair enough, but which of these games is home and which is away and against who? We could for example play England at Twickenham, Ireland at Lansdowne and host Japan and Italy at home – should be great for crowd attendance!! Again, we don’t have details, yet we are happy enough to sign off on it!!

    We have also bitched for years about the travel disadvantage that we have playing in the Rugby Championship and at Super Rugby level, yet here we are happy enough to double up on the travel, with no advantage adjustment! Yes, other Nations will also have long hauls, but for SA every single game played abroad will be a long haul – NZ – Australia – NZ are a few hours, similarly Wales to Scotland or France etc, How can we just arbitrarily accept this?

    Lastly, the final will NOT be a strength verses strength affair – the top North team will play the Top rest of the World team, so really what is the purpose. If the three best teams are in the North that year, then surely it should be an all North final, not a watered down affair that suits the broadcasting coffers alone!

    There are far too many questions unanswered to be agreeing to this!!

  • REN

    There should be 4 hemispheres, North South, East and West. North would be the current 6 nations with the addition of a second tier 6 nations (East Block nations). East would be some Oriental nations and Pacific nations to also create a “6 nations”. South would be the current Rugby Championship (+2?) with the addition of a second tier 6 nations made up by Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya and pwrhaps even mediteranian countries like Portugal, Spain and Dubai (more Middle East but on African continent). West would be North and South America. Every team only play the opposition once, hosting each opposition every alternative year. The top 2 teams of each “league” plays in the Premium World League (12 teams). This system obviously means that the top 12 teams competing wont consist just of the top 10 ranked teams on the global rankings. It also gives second tier countries more regular fixtures and more regular opportunities to compete against the top tier teams. This will create a bigger fan base and would make the World Cup competition more competitive. The competition with the Top 12 would be a knock out competition. This phase of the competion can each year alternate between the six regions to cut travel. This format would focus more on global exposure and participation than having the bragging rights of being the best in the world. For that there is the World Cup.

    • Barry

      It certainly has a more balanced feel to it than what is proposed!

  • Dean Bright

    Grow the game, it’s made football the most popular and lucrative sport in the World. This nations league puts the pacific island nations and Georgia etc out in the cold. How will they ever improve? I agree with Zelim’s idea, sort of. The best club teams could play a competition every 2 years, between World Cups. Football has one and so does cricket. The money is in club competitions like the IPL, Big Bash and Uefa Champions league. Rugby needs one with the Crusaders, Saracens, Bulls, Racing Metro, Leinster battling it out for World Club supremacy. The big money in those IPL tournaments is ridicolous as shown by the bloated amount of sponsors, massive amounts of money spent on player auctions and serious betting going on. Player draw or auctions is a great idea too, to keep people interested. Who wouldn’t want to tune in to find out what magic signings their team could make for a tournament like that.

  • D John

    Hi all,

    Here is a simple tweak that might work to generate more revenue.

    – remove the third Bledisloe match
    – Revert Super Rugby to Super 14 and reduce the number of games
    – Have the winner of the regional competitions play each other (Super Rugby, Premiership, Top14 etc) in a knockout stage (replacing the missing games from super rugby). More stringent promotion/relegation standards in all regional formats.
    – Have the six nations during the SAME time of the year as the Rugby Championship
    – World League for the nations outside the top 10
    – promotion/relegation for the rugby championship AND the six nations
    – Since we have to bring the USA into the game and get them excited. Host the SIX nations/rugby championship “final” (ie the winner of each) in the US/Japan in alternating years.
    – We then need to leave space for “tours” – because when they do actually happen – people go to the games. Less international rugby is more. (Because playing for the jersey of your country is something that should not be handed out like popcorn)

    World Rugby, I’m free to help with this planning. Give me a call.

    • boyo

      I like your idea of sort of a club champions league. Also a world league for the guys not in the RC or 6 nations with promotion relegation each year.

      Growing the game should be the most NB thing not making more money for a select few. The “tier three” nations are becoming more and more competitive. We have seen the rise of Georgia, USA,Brazil and Japan as decent sides. Certainly wouldn’t expect to put 100 on any of them like in the past and they are where we should be looking to build and take it from there.

  • Jay

    “Pad those 12 teams with the best imported Kiwis, Aussies, Pacific islanders, Japanese, Argentine and North American players that money can buy, …”

    Are you not just describing the Heinekin cup here? ;-)

    In all seriousness, I have to agree with the club rugby “champions league” idea. Have all the winners of the various comps duke it out for top club honours in a knockout or super league competition.

    As stated, Test rugby is the pinnacle but why cheapen it with so many games. I still remember when playing 50 tests for your country was a huge thing. With the playing schedules these days, players can reach that in a few short years.

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