The Global Pandemic has brought about unprecedented havoc on the rugby world. I remember being at Leinster vs Lyon in the champions Cup last January, and it all seemed so straight forward. The season would go on until June (later than usual due to the World Cup), then there would be the usual internationals, break preseason, everything starts again, Autumn internationals, Six Nations, normal season, lions tour, and so on. We go all go for a pint or a coffee or a non-stimulating beverage afterwards and talk rugby. But unfortunately it hasn’t worked out that way.
The Pro14 season will resume about 2 months after it was supposed to have ended. The will be two rounds of games, then on to the semi-finals of the league and the knockouts of the Champions Cup. In fact there will be plenty of rugby in Autumn with the Six Nations, the Rugby Championship, and this new tournament involving the 6 nations sides and Fiji and Japan. But this may be the wake up call that was needed for World Rugby.
The Six Nations is outdated, and the Rugby Championship is too small. There’s are potential fixes to both those issues.
Knock down the ring fence around the Six Nations and open it up to other European sides. That doesn’t mean kick Italy out, more likely it means add two teams and make it the 8 Nations. I’ve written about this before for Harpin’ On Rugby. The most progressive way forward is to expand the top tier of European Rugby and have promotion and relegation, both automatic and through play-offs. That way different teams get a sample of life at the top table. As for World Cup Qualification, the top teams that don’t automatically qualify can meet in a round-robin tournament in June or November. This also allows for greater player-rotation.
As for the Rugby Championship, it looks like part of that will be addressed. Japan and Fiji are set to be added, in a long overdue expansion. The next step should be adding a 2nd tier. Canada, USA, Tonga, and Samoa made up the Pacific Nations previously, while Hong Kong and Namibia are the next best Asian and African teams respectively. Those 6 teams could play-off in a 2nd tier, with the Rugby Americas Championship (which does have a 2nd tier), the Asians Championship, and Rugby Africa Cup (which is also tiered) acting as qualifiers. The top 2 Americas teams (outside of Argentina XV) get into this 2nd tier, there could be a play-off between the net best Asian and Oceania team, and the winners of the Rugby Africa Gold Cup could qualify. The winner of this 2nd tier could play the bottom side in the Rugby Championship for a place at the top table. This way more teams have a route to top level rugby.
As for yearly internationals, they should be varied. A quarter of a top tiers teams test matches should be against Tier 2 or lower opposition. When Ireland go to one of the big Southern Hemisphere Nations, they should play against another side outside of the top tier 2. Then in November, instead of playing a Six Nations side, play a Rugby Europe team. Smaller teams need more game time and top level exposure. But how do we fit in domestic rugby.
Sort Out The Leagues
The Pro14 really is a global competition. But it needs some improvements. Every team should play an even number of games for starters in the regular season. I’d propose a 10-team league, with the top 6 going to the knockouts. That’s 18 games. Then we have a 2nd tier with teams from around Europeans smaller rugby nations, and the bottom 4 Pro14 sides. I’d recommend the same for the Premiership and Top14 too. Smaller leagues ultimately mean more games.
What about derbies? It would be possible to have some weeks spare for the Pro14 sides to still play enough derbies each season, have an Irish cup, a Welsh Cup, and a Scottish and Italian Cup. If not, have them play in the preseason.
Open Up Europe
I’m sure that heading will get some fiery comments by people who don’t realize this is a rugby article.
The Continental Shield was scrapped, meaning we are now without a 3rd tier. Why not use this as an opportunity to revamp European Rugby. Make 20 teams 24 again, have 6 from emerging European rugby nations (such as Georgia, Russia, Romania, Spain, Portugal and Germany). Comparing it to football, one of the best parts of the European Cup is the away trips.
Same with the 2nd tier, 24 teams, 6 pools of 4, the teams from the big 3 leagues and some emerging teams. Then add a third tier, with the remaining/newly promoted teams in the big leagues and the rest of the top Emerging European teams. That way the European Cup truly becomes a continental competition.
Take On The World
The World Cup needs changing too. An even number of teams in each group would be a start. And again, a second tier competition. That way the competition could still have midweek games without unfair turnarounds.
There’s a lot there and it’ll take time. But rugby needs to become a real global game, rather than a game that’s played in different parts of the globe.