World Rugby ignores Sanzaar cracks

Craig Ray

The seventh edition of the Rugby Championship began last weekend and the familiar storyline of the All Blacks lapping the field showed no signs of changing.

New Zealand rugby is so far ahead of its southern hemisphere rivals that they cannot be called rivals really, while the All Blacks are also well ahead of the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, World Rugby – the sport’s governing body – sent out a gushing email last week about how a marketing tour of the Webb Ellis Cup inspired the popularity of rugby in India.

It was filled with amazing facts such as: “The Webb Ellis Cup received by a record-breaking crowd of over 15,000 schoolchildren in Bhubaneswar, the largest attendance at a standalone event since the trophy tour was introduced in 2014.”

India’s sports minister met with World Rugby leaders to discuss the growth of rugby in the region and the release claimed that nearly 55,000 players were introduced into its ‘Get Into Rugby’ programme.

Growing the game is all well and good, but it seems that the pursuit of growth in non-traditional markets such as India and the USA is coming at the cost of the spine of the sport.

Sport is about a contest between great players and teams. When one entity dominates over another it ceases to be compelling.

World Rugby’s major concern should be reviving South African and Australian rugby in the short- to medium-term because the sport needs healthy competition for the All Blacks.

The Boks and Wallabies have won four Webb Ellis Cups between them yet both nations have a domestic game in turmoil.

Australian Rugby is just about broke and almost every province in South Africa is on the brink of financial collapse, while SA Rugby itself has declared two massive financial losses in its last two audits.

If growing the game of rugby were a major priority there would be a comprehensive plan in place for nurturing the talent in the Pacific Islands. If ever rugby had a natural gene pool to dip into and parade on a world stage to truly represent a global image of the sport, then Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, are it.

But those islands offer no commercial value to World Rugby, so are left to fend for themselves. It’s no wonder they are a net exporter of rugby talent because there is no value for players remaining at home.

South African rugby is facing a similar crisis as players flock overseas because it’s not financially viable to remain at home, which erodes the domestic game.

The law book is also one of rugby major’s problems that need to be addressed long before it goes calling in India to grow the sport.

People in the current market are turning away from the sport (Super Rugby’s attendance and viewership figures have been on the decline for years) and one of the issues is people do not understand, or are frustrated by the laws.

Laws are not consistently applied, there are too many areas open to interpretation and it’s making the 15-man game less interesting and desirable.

Sevens is thriving because of its relative simplicity but 15s remains bogged down in a morass of unclear interpretation of complex laws and a seemingly never-ending season.

By all means, grow the game in India, but first fix the issues that plague the sport now. If Australia and South Africa disappear into financial ruin, the Pacific Islands are continually spurned and the complexity of the laws not addressed, then rugby will lose a large part of its player base, history and soul.

And India, the USA or Russia won’t be able to fill those gaps quickly enough. Rugby needs to grow, but not at any cost.

- Craig Ray

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    The viewership of Super Rugby is still by far the greatest that the game has to offer globally, so really asking world Rugby to fix SANZA is like the tail wagging the dog.
    Office bearers at World Rugby are elected and are there short term, so rocking the boat and making unpopular decisions for the better of the game, would be political stupidity! A good example was South Africa’s bid for the World Cup 2023. Independently we were rated the best bid, but the glory went to France on the old boy system. Do not credit World Rugby with integrity, because, trust there is precious little!
    The future of our Rugby and that of Australia lies in the hands of our administrators. New Zealand have manipulated biased travel arrangements both in Super Rugby and the four nations and it has worked margins in their favour. But the question is, what have our administrators done about it?

  • Swannie Swanepoel

    Considering the numbers of players and “coaches” contracted by all unions (in South Africa), it is no wonder rugby is bankrupt in this country.

    Apart from that, there is not a single senior rugby coach worth his salts in this country (with the jury still out on Rassie, of course). New Zealand don’t have better players (who would they have?), they just have faaaaaar superior coaches and strategists.

    Lastly … modern rugby is not nearly the exciting spectator sport it used to be. It has become one big brawl. If we want it to pull in the crowds again, simply bring back the laws that applied in the latter half of the last century.

  • Herman Schroder?

    Also the elephant in the room. SA the only country in the world to have a race based selection policy and World Rugby quietly turns it’s head away. The politicized SARU must also shoulder most of the blame. They allow Sanzaar to construct a fixture list to favour some teams over the others and are tardy with calling poor match officiating to account. Due to the NZ domination of world rugby WR do not want to’ rock the boat’ and again choose to turn a blind eye. And what’s even more depressing is that the current SR system still has two years to run, so no relief in site. I think spending Saturdays playing Tiddlywinks may even be more rewarding.

    • Shaun

      Yup, tough to know that we are not allowed to play any XV and still try and compete.
      AB’s play their best XV, we might be playing our best XIII and we still want to beat them?

      In a World Cup year the transformation target needs to decrease instead of increase to give us the best possible chance of regaining the William Webb Ellis trophy.

      then SR, everyone to play each other once, top 8 (the real top 8) QF, SF and Final.

      Winner of SR to play the European champion. Why not?

  • Herman Schroder?

    Error above sorry – ‘site’ should read ‘sight’ of course. Cheers.

  • Bruce Kokkinn

    Fewer simpler laws, fewer unions, fewer administrators, fewer games, less control by TV. All of this is like asking the turkey to look forward to Xmas!

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