Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Rugby Union in the 21st Century - all about the money.

Back in the early nineties, soon after Manu Samoa's good showing in the RWC, the IRB promised to invest money into the Pacific Island teams to help them become more competitive on the world stage.  It's fair to say very little was done, and with the advent of professional rugby, even less is being put into the Island game by the governing body.

It's all about the money these days.  Prove me wrong? In the second decade of this century, the flagship team of World rugby, The All Blacks, have not played any games in those islands.  To date only a handful of top 20 teams have played in the islands, and even worse, the top six haven't played an Island team for ages, home or away (barring NH tours).

Yet two minnows of world rugby have, in the case of the All Blacks, have had games (or will).  Both Japan and the USA have had the honour to host the best team in the world.  Is this to grow the game in those countries, or is it about chasing the money that could be associated with those teams in the global game in the future?  Interesting question with a simple answer.

The reality is that by playing Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea, the top teams won't grow the game financially.  It seems better for the island teams to be feeder clubs to the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Japan and USA in a lesser capacity.  Yes the game of rugby is now about the money, not the kudos.  Professionalism has a large part to play in this summation and a change of focus in the IRB.

Is it wrong or right for this to happen?  Well yes and no.  Rugby has to fight for all the money it can get, not being a true global game, and to survive it has to offer good money to keep it viable, especially to the teams that make up the top tier.  But in so doing it also hurts the game at the lower level as can be seen by how the Pacific Island nations, and second tier European and Asian teams are treated.  By having the All Blacks playing Japan and USA the game is being exposed to bigger dollars.  By not playing versus the island nations et al the security of the game financially is secured much to the frustration of those lower tiered nations.

So what of the impact on those lower tier nations?  Well, the best move countries looking for better opportunities, be it at club level, professional franchise level, and eventually international level, is to stand firm and demand internationals at their place, and against top 6 teams..  Just look at the make up of the All Blacks, Wallabies and to a lesser extent Japan, abounding with PI players seeking better opportunities.  The boundaries for eligibility are changing and the top tier teams are getting even stronger whilst the minnows suffer.  The reflection is evident especially in RWC competitions.

The USA and Japan are seen by the IRB as the future of the second tier based on the need for them to play the All Blacks at home.  These games are not about getting a full stadium, but exposure to a larger financial future.  And Fiji, Manu Samoa et al suffer further.  Personally I'd like to see the All Blacks, Wallabies and South Africa include one test match per southern season at home to an Island Nation.  Sure it may be a financial loss on the books, but with a lot of island players switching to League the future of the game would be secured globally.  And if the three main island nations can't field a team at a RWC then rugby is the loser.

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