GEORGINA ROBINSON

Last updated 22:12, September 19 2018

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Second tier nations have pulled off some great upsets in the Rugby World Cup, most notably Japan’s win over South Africa in a 2015 Rugby World Cup pool match in Brighton.

One year out from the Rugby World Cup, the body representing rugby players worldwide has put the brakes on talks to drive a football-esque expansion of the sport’s showpiece event.The International Rugby Players Association (IRPA) says World Rugby should prioritise the welfare and conditions of players from tier-two nations before entertaining thoughts of expanding the World Cup from 20 to 24 teams in the future.The idea was canvassed by World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper this week but IRPA boss Omar Hassanein told Fairfax Media rugby needed to bridge the gap between its tier one and two nations first.

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Brett Gosper, the CEO of World Rugby, is keen for the Rugby World Cup to expand.

“Football is the benchmark, there’s no doubt about that. There’s top teams like Italy who can’t make the top 32 in a World Cup let alone the 16 or eight,” Hassanein said. “But if we want to be a sport that has that real uncertainty about who’s going to be in the quarter-finals of a World Cup then the key is strengthening the tier two band. That’s got to happen before expanding.”READ MORE: * RWC could expand by 2023* What Japan has to offer for RWCGosper told London’s Telegraph that expansion is inevitable and could even come as soon as the 2023 tournament in France.”We’re looking from an expansive point of view rather than reducing things, so it’s just a question of when rather than if,” he said.  “We haven’t opined yet on 2023 [although the assumption is 20 teams], but we could still change that between now and 2023.”The tendency for us is to look to expand. It’s growing the global game, getting interest from fans and commercial interest in new markets to grow the sport. We’re definitely in an expansive mindset.”You have got to make sure, of course, that you’ve got the teams competitive enough to move to a 24-team tournament.”Hassanein said the IRPA had no problem with expansion per se but believed the priority should be wage security among Pacific Islands nations and some African and European teams, plus bridging the competitiveness gap.
Tier two nations include Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Namibia, Japan, Canada, the US, Uruguay and Georgia. Fairfax Media understands it is not uncommon for Pacific Islands nations to fall three or four months behind in player payments, while the Kenya Rugby Union (a third tier development nation) is on the brink of collapse over missed player payments and a sponsorship boycott. German players went on strike earlier this year over funding withdrawals.In some of those countries World Rugby foots up to 90 or 95 per cent of the unions’ budgets, but governance issues have led to problems.Mismatched contests have also led to some glaring World Cup blowouts in the past but also to some of the great upsets, not the least of which was Japan’s victory over South Africa in the group stages in 2015.For next year’s tournament, one of the 20 spots remains open and will be decided through a repechage event in France in late November. Kenya, Germany, Hong Kong and Canada will battle it out in a round-robin format to see who goes through. Only Canada have played in a World Cup before.”Some might argue that the more teams getting exposure at World Cup time will address the [disparity] but what tier two nations need and part of our overall position is that not only do they need more guaranteed conditions on pay and welfare, they also need more guaranteed fixtures so they can begin to bridge the gap,” Hassanein.”Within the four-year cycle we have to try to get better quality matches. Generally, they get one big game a year but it’s a case of trying to match them up against each other more often. The Pacific Rim tournaments, which matched the Pacific Islands with Canada, Japan and the United States, while they cost a bit of money, they were always successful.”We know this issue is high on World Rugby’s agenda, there’s just cost implications to all of it as well.”

 – Sydney Morning Herald


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