Friday, January 10, 2014

Crisis in Fijian rugby could impact Rugby World Cup Opener

Fijian players celebrate eliminating Wales from Rugby World Cup 2007
With the rugby world fixed onto the crises that has engulfed Welsh rugby little to no attention has been directed at events occurring in a country which eliminated Wales from the Rugby World Cup in 2007. Fijian rugby is on the verge of catastrophe after the IRB suspended the FRU´£1 million development grant. Should relations not improve the danger exists for Fiji to not play at Rugby World Cup 2015 which would see England instead facing the Cook Islands in the tournament´s opening fixture. 

When  Rugby World Cup Ltd announced that England would be facing Oceania 1 in the Rugby World Cup 2015 tournament opener it was evident that a grave error had been made. With both Australia and Wales also in the pool the organizers were looking to have England open against a team that it would not face a risk of losing against. 

But as demonstrated in Rugby World Cup 2007 having the host nation involved in the pool of death need not mean structuring a draw which benefits the host nation. Indeed France 2007 had suspense that England and Wales 2015 will not have on the opening night. Argentina´s win over France lit the tournament up instantly while four years on in New Zealand the games between the All Blacks and Tonga was overshadowed entirely by the pre-match presentations.

In opting to not open with a mouth-watering match between England and Australia the tournament will fail to deliver a match for casual viewers and newcomers to rugby that will encourage them to watch as much of the tournament as possible. An England v Fiji match may see brilliant tries but it will not see a scoreboard in which the leading side needs to protect its position. Of the five previous tests between England and Fiji the European nation has won every time and done so by big scores. The two matches in the professional era have seen England winning 45-24 and 54-12.

The unlikely event of Fiji seriously giving England a challenge on the opening night of rugby´s biggest event could be going from mission difficult to mission impossible. Sources from Fiji have reported that the country´s non-governmental government led by military dictator Frank Bainimarama has not been helping matters as after the IRB suspended its aid to Fijian rugby the Bainimarama administration rejected the FRU board´s preferred candidate for the vacant position of chief executive officer leaving Fijian Rugby completely leaderless.

With IRB funding accounting for over half of the administrations budget and three times that of sponsor Digicel Fijian rugby is in its biggest crisis in its one hundred year existence. The vacant CEO position will now need to be re-advertised with Fiji in need of drastic improvements both on and off the field as the 66-0 loss against Wales at Rugby World Cup 2011 remains fresh.

The record defeat came less than a year after they had competed to a 16-16 draw in Cardiff and four years after Fiji had won 38-34 in Nantes to reach the Quarter Finals and eliminate Wales. Rather than building a team to conquer England in the 2015 tournament opener Fiji faces difficulty in being able to seriously competed. Losses against Canada and Italy in 2012 in combination with Fiji being suspended from competing at the Commonwealth Games and a loss of funding have Fiji have Fijians extremely concerned.

The real possibility exists of Fiji to be suspended from competing at Rugby World Cup 2015 which would mean England would face the Cook Islands in the tournament opener. The Cook Islands is a Tier Three side with no Rugby World Cup experience and a current IRB World Ranking of 46th position. The lowest ranked side at present to have opened a World Cup is Italy ranked 13th. 


  1. Wasn't the US ranked lower than #13 when it opened against Ireland in 2011?

    1. Yes but that was not the opening fixture. Ireland v USA was on Sunday September 11 2011. The tournament started with New Zealand v Tonga on Friday September 9.