Rugby Union Growing From Strength To Strength
World Rugby continues to set new benchmarks and make inroads in growing the game ‘they play in heaven’ in this very competitive world of sports.
Ever since the unparalleled success of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in the United Kingdom and the inclusion, for the first time, of rugby sevens as an Olympic sport in the Rio Games last year , the game’s growing popularity on the global front is almost second to none.
Apart from financing the development of the game, World Rugby has created new innovations and member unions are keeping up and lifting their game.
Organisers of the 2019 RWC in Japan have promised to connect, create and go forward in order to deliver the best-ever RWC to be played in 12 cities while launching their tournament vision yesterday.
2019RWC chief executive officer Akira Shimazu promises a ground-breaking and inclusive celebration of rugby and friendship that puts teams, fans and the Japanese people at the centre.
Also yesterday France aimed to match Japan by playing the four-yearly global showpiece in 12 cities (Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Saint-Denis, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse) if it wins the bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
But the ground-breaking news this week is World Rugby unveiling a new global calendar from 2020 which will include shifting the June Test window back to July to allow the Super Rugby season to run uninterrupted.
Ever since rugby union became a fully professional sport after the 1995RWC in South Africa, there has been talk of a ‘global season’ in a bid to get greater harmony between club and international fixtures.
But with the code traditionally a winter sport in both the northern and southern hemispheres, all attempts to streamline the match programme have been all talk and no action despite repeated concerns about player welfare and burnout.
World Rugby has promised more tests between top and second-tier nations and announced changes to the timing of international windows.
This means that France and England will make tours to the Pacific Islands.
England last played in Fiji in 1988 where they won 25-12 in Suva.
France attracted a record attendance at the then National Stadium Suva in their only test match in Fiji in 1998 where they won 34-9.
The RWC will also begin a week earlier than has been the case; from 2023 it will start in the second week of September.
But it is the increase of exposure for second-tier nations that will provide the biggest potential shake-up to the game.
Southern hemisphere teams have committed to hosting tier-two teams in July, while Georgia and Romania will also entertain Six Nations sides in that window.
Six Nations sides have also guaranteed they will host a minimum of six matches against second-tier teams in November.
World Rugby chairperson Bill Beaumont said; “This agreement has player welfare and equity at heart, driving certainty and opportunities for emerging rugby powers and laying the foundations for a more compelling and competitive international game, which is great for unions, players and fans.”
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said it was an “excellent outcome for New Zealand with Super Rugby able to run without the disruptive June break, and provides the optimum preparation for the July international window.
“This has been an important piece of work which also takes into account the welfare of players, development and advancement opportunities for emerging nations, and an exciting programme of Test rugby.”
World Rugby has set the standard. Member unions can only adapt and keep up with the pace.