Monday, January 13, 2014

Leinster´s Heineken Cup dates underline Rugby World Cup Failure

Photo SA Rugby Mag:
Japan has a tough schedule in 2015

This past weekend saw Leinster qualify for the Heineken Cup Quarter Finals after the Irish province defeated the French champions 29-22 in France. With one round remaining the Irish side now faces a five day turn-around before hosting the Ospreys in Dublin. A less than impressed Leinster CEO, Michael Dawson, criticized ERC Rugby in saying that playing two Heineken Cup matches with only a five day recovery period is unprofessional.

Dawson slammed the Heineken Cup organizers for asking Leinster to have its first five day turn around in fourteen years. He said that Leinster´s schedule is grossly unfair as there will be teams playing on Sunday, thus having two additional days and of the teams playing on Sunday two played on Friday last round meaning they have four more days than Leinster between their round five and six pool matches. 

Leinster therefore has reason to believe it has been handed a tough fixture list but it could be a lot worse as Rugby World Cups illustrate. Indeed the match schedule for the next World Cup was so controversially handled that the team that qualifies as Asia 1 will have to face South Africa and Scotland on a three day turn-around. With Japan set to qualify in 2014 the 2019 Rugby World Cup host nation will have to make a tough choice as to which match it can field its best players against and which to field its replacements.

IRB Chief Executive Brett Gosper has been trying hard to market Rugby World Cup 2015 as the fairest of all time. In his words the organizers of Rugby World Cup 2015 managed to find a balance which sees a fair distribution of rest days to Tier One and Tier Two unions competing in the tournament. It is based on a false pretense as no Tier One side will be required to face two Tier One sides with the minimum three day rest time. 

Indeed the five instances of Tier One sides backing up with three rest days that Gosper talks about will see Australia play on September 23 and 27 but against Oceania 1 and the Play-Off Winner. The identity of these two qualifying nations remains unknown but with Fiji to be the strongest side in contention it is not a task that Australia cannot handle. 

The other Tier One instances are similar with South Africa playing on October 3 and 7 against Scotland and either the USA or Uruguay (Americas). Scotland will play on September 23 and 27 against Asia 1 and Americas 2, New Zealand will face Argentina and Africa 1 on September 20 and 24 while France will face Italy and Europe 2 on September 19 and 23. Similar to Australia all instances are more than managable with no team in danger of losing both matches. 

In contrast what is being asked of Tier Two sides that will play twice in five days is much more demanding and implies that the teams will choose one of the two fixtures and aim to win that match thus sacrificing the other. Such a scenario is precisely what has happened previously. In 2011 the USA faced Australia with its reserves so that it would have a greater chance of competing well against Italy four days later. The result was the USA failed to be competitive for the only time in the tournament. 

The likes of Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Japan, Namibia, Romania, Russia and Samoa were all also asked to play two matches including at least one against a Tier One side with a three day turn-around. No Tier One side was required to do so. The Tier One competitor with the smallest turn-around involving a Tier One opponent was Italy which faced the USA and Ireland on September 27 and October 2. 

For Rugby World Cup 2015 the five Tier Two sides with three rest days between two fixtures are to be the Play-Off Winner, Asia 1, Americas 2, Africa 1 and Europe 2. In all instances these sides will be playing two matches they have a strong chance of losing. The Play-Off Winner will face Oceania 1 and England, Asia 1 will face Scotland and South Africa, Americas 2 will face South Africa and Asia 1, Africa 1 will face Europe 1 and Argentina while Europe 2 will face Canada and Italy. 

Needless to say the words of the IRB boss are a fabrication and with Leinster having spoken out against having a five day break between fixtures the three days handed to the Japanese between facing South Africa and Scotland can only be described as an appalling action against the code of sportsmanship.  Although Gosper has tried to compare it to what the likes of Australia and South Africa will be playing the reality is that what is being asked of the mentioned Tier One unions is reasonable but far from being a compromise. 

2 comments:

  1. The Leinster CEO is chatting rubbish. The Ospreys played on Sunday as well so they will be at no disadvantage. And if a fully professional squad of 40+ is moaning about 5 days, then imagine what it must be like for an amateur Namibia side forced to play giants South Africa and Wales with 3 days rest. Any coincidence that Namibia's best performances at the RWC (vs Ireland in 2007 and Fiji in 2011) both came in their first match.

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  2. The IRB Rugby World Cup should expand to 24 teams. there should be six groups of four teams, split into three Cup groups for the top 12 teams, and three Plate groups for the remaining 12 teams. That way, there would be no matches between tier 1 and tier 3 teams.

    The 8 best teams from Cup groups advance to the Cup knockout, like today. Meanwhile, the top 4 teams from the Plate groups join the remaining four teams from the Cup groups to play an 8-team Plate knockout. The eight teams that reach the Cup knockout, as well as the four teams that advance to the Plate semifinals, would play the the next tournament's Cup groups.

    Since there are no bye weeks in the group phase, there would be no issues with tier 1 teams getting better schedules than other teams. Also, the number of matches would barely increase from 48 to 50-52.

    Three of the four extra World Cup spots would be given to South America 1, Europe 3, and Asia 2, so teams like Uruguay, Georgia, Russia and Hong Kong would be allowed to avoid repechage. The last spot would be added to repechage teams, so there would be less repechage matches.

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