As rugby fans, we get excited by international rugby. Whether it’s the Six Nations or the Rugby Championship, we love international rugby.
But once our teams are winning, do we question the state of international rugby? Do we ask how the game itself is doing? Law changes can be contentious. Retirements can be painful. But is the game as strong as it could be? The June internationals brought about these questions to me.
These tours are often used by to reward form players and to build depth in the overall squad. Ireland capped 12 players in South Africa in 2016 who had less than 10 caps before the tour. However, there must be limited use to playing the same team, three times, in three weeks. The short window with players before the Tour makes installing multiple game-plans difficult. Even so, the benefit from 3 games against the same team must have a low ceiling.
This adds to the lack of opportunities for Tier 2 nations. In November 2017, Ireland, Scotland and Wales beat Fiji, Georgia and Samoa by less than a converted try. It shows that the gap between Tier 1 and 2 nations is not so great. But if this gap is to continue to shrink more regular games between Tier 1 and 2 nations are required.
A solution could be to change the three test tour format into a four-team round-robin tournament. These tournaments should include a mixture of Tier 1,2 and 3 nations. With the international window moving to July, coaches could be given more time with their teams to install multiple game-plans. Not to mention, a potential rest for the northern hemisphere players. Too many times end of season tours hurt more than help. This format change could aid more rotation in squad selections. Not only to maintain player freshness but to mirror the change in tactics.
For example in 2020, if schedules were to continue, Ireland would most likely to travel to South Africa. In this new format, Ireland, South Africa, and two Tier 2 nations such as Fiji and Canada would be put into a single group. Each team would play each other once and the team on top of the group would win the overall tournament. This format has also been tried and tested with World Rugby before with the Tbilisi Cup.
This format benefits all sides. Tier 1 teams would benefit from preparing for a much better simulation of the World Cup pool stages. Tier 2 nations would benefit from playing against some of the best teams in the world more regularly. The host nation would have multiple fan bases travelling to the games. This means an increase in ticket sales and benefit to the local economy. It would also offer broadcasting opportunities into different and potentially new markets.
World Rugby is making an effort to ensure the growth of rugby at the grassroots level of each nation, as well as to expand it globally. The best way for the growth of any sport is intense competition. These summer tours are stunting the development of Tier 2 nations. Moving to a round robin tournament style can and will advance international rugby all over the world. Unifying all the rugby superpowers is essential to keep international rugby moving forward. Is the game as strong as it can be? No, but here’s a start.
Author: Rory Kavanagh