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.

Possible solution

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


  1. Interesting article, Rory, and a good method for tier 1 nations to help the development of the world game.
    It will be interesting to see who learns most from their summer tours this year. If you are right Scotland should take a leap forward in their development in relation to the other NH Tier 1 nations. However I fear that the rapid changes in climactic zones will be Scotland’s undoing and would have preferred to play all our games in one country, as you suggest.

    • Thanks Paul. Scotland have a tough travel schedule but I think for the most part they’re not changing timezones too much which seems to have a huge negative impact with players adjusting to new locations. That last game against Argentina is going to a cracker of a game!

  2. Hi Rory,
    You need not worry. These issues are largely addressed in the new global calendar World Rugby has agreed upon for the 2019-2030 period.
    I tried to analyse how this schedule should look like here (last post March 11th):
    This text is too long to post here so I will do with the hyperlink above. I hope it makes sense.

    • spot on, willem

      the problem itself has already been addressed introducing a brand new schedule for the period you said
      about time i’d say

    • Thanks for sending that on Willem. I wasn’t aware of that back when I wrote the article. Looks really interesting!

  3. Yes, a more inclusive calendar is badly needed but: can you visualize a role for the British & Irish Lions in your scheme ?

    • I assumed that this system would still work on the same cycle as the current model with other Tier 1 nations such as France and the non-competing SH nations still being involved in the round robin tournaments. For example, during the Lions last year France toured South Africa. So instead of that 3 test tour, two other Tier 2 nations could be added in. Plus in those years, the national teams involved in making up the Lions will still Tour. Ireland went to the US and England went to Argentina (if I remember correctly). So even if the Lions nations don’t have their full squads they could still be involved in the tournaments.

  4. I like your possible solution, the biggest barrier to that would be the money of course.

    The Pacific Nations Cup from 2013 to 2015 was the best we’ve seen in my opinion with Japan, US, Canada and the three Pacific Nations playing each other in one tournament. I would have liked to see Tier 1 countries be involved in the future in some form (eg the winner having the right to play in the next Rugby Championship). But instead Japan, US and Canada stopped participating after the 2015 World Cup.

    Something I realised while writing this: can you name a Pacific Nation player with more than 50 caps?

    • Quite late for this but that would be Nicky Little for Fiji with 71 caps, probably the most capped PI player in my opinion although I don’t know about Tonga or Samoa.

  5. Thanks Kaito. Yes money would be the biggest barrier but I don’t think its a definitive conclusion that nations would lose out on revenue with this model if promoted well. There’s definitely more risk associated with it but with the mix of Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations, and overall there being more matches in a tournament I think the fans would enjoy it more and you’d have a great opportunity for more travelling fans.
    What was the biggest drawback for the US and Canada with the Pacific Nations? Was it travel?
    Nicky Little for Fiji is the first player that comes to mind. He had 71 caps. Great player!

    • Thanks for your constructive reply Rory. I don’t know why USA and Canada withdrew from the Pacific Nation. But I have heard that the reason for Japan was to maintain player welfare for those playing for the Sunwolves, a Top League team and the national side.

      Nice to know about Nicky Little. I asked that question because I was shocked when I saw that Nadolo and Alesana Tuilagi only have 28 and 37 caps respectively. Maybe rugby was actually more globalised when Nicky Little was playing?


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