Saturday, March 1, 2014

Should Canada and the USA join a new FIRA Six Nations B?

The USA impressed v Romania
in November 2012
The CEO of USA Rugby Nigel Melville has previously made references to the fact that the lack of a global rugby calendar directly impacts the international schedules of Tier Two rugby nations. The USA Eagles are unable to have full access to European based players during mandatory release windows and there are times in which players could be representing the USA but are unable to due to there being no test rugby at that time. A solution to the disorganization has been put forward by Melville - have the North Americans join the second Tier Europeans to play a new competition during the Six Nations window.

This coming week there will be meetings in London involving representatives from Tier Two rugby nations  with the focus being on establishing agendas for 2015-2019. Tier Two nations have agreed that they all need more international competition and seek more matches between themselves in addition to increased opportunities against Tier One nations. 

The USA and Canada have been afforded one home test a year since Rugby World Cup 2011 against a member of the Six Nations. The home internationals against Italy in June 2012 and Ireland in June 2013 proved to be highly successful with record crowds gathering in Houston and Toronto. The same is expected this coming June with Scotland visiting North American before flying to Argentina to take on Los Pumas in Córdoba. 

Canada pushed Italy in 2012 while the USA did the same against the Irish in 2013. Neither side played another Tier One nation during this period but both had their moments against the visiting Maori All Blacks in late 2013. Similar to the home tests against the Europeans the matches against the New Zealanders attracted significant interest as Toronto and Philadelphia both had large crowds in attendance. 

Organizers are aware that they have a growing product and need to cater to the increasingly propserous market. This means more test matches both at home and away to see Canada and the USA having in depth international schedules that more closely replicate Tier One sides whom are afforded more test matches per year. In 2014, for instance, the USA is expected to play three tests in June and three in November for a total of six tests which could become seven if the USA does host New Zealand as expected. 

England, by contrast, will play five tests in the Six Nations, three away tests in New Zealand in June and host four tests in November for a total of twelve tests, one more than Italy whom is firmly established as an integral part of the Six Nations. The difference in the agendas between Italy on the one hand and the two North American nations on the other hand is that Italy plays tests against teams it can beat in Europe to begin every year while the North Americans have to wait until June unlike the Japanese. 

Japan plays four tests in the Asian Nations Cup which will, in 2014, serve as preparation for the Pacific Nations Cup away tests against Canada and the USA in addition to confirming which Asian nation will qualify directly for Rugby World Cup 2015. Japan will host Italy in June and in November it will play a yet to be confirmed set of opponents involving matches in Japan and Europe. Put differently, the Asian nation will have a superior schedule than the North Americans. 

The idea put forward by Melville on twitter has been for the USA (and Canada) to play against European Nations in February and March in a new competition to replace the FIRA Division 1A which has the top six outside of the Six Nations play home and away over a two year period. The current competition doubles as qualifaction for Rugby World Cup 2015. Georgia and Romania have secured their places in the World Cup already while the third best of the remaining four teams - Belgium, Portugal, Russia and Spain will have a chance of qualifying for the World Cup via repercharge. 

Could Canada and the USA therefore replace the fifth and sixth ranked sides to play in a new competition every February and March? There are various possible models such as the bottom two being directly replaced in an annual event or one played over two years. It could see matches shared between the continents or restricted to Europe. The USA and Canada have both shown their willingness to cooperate to allow for more economic test matches which saw both play tests against Tier Two nations in Colwyn Bay, Wales in November 2012. 

What enables a new competition to be commercially viable is that both Canada and the USA would be able to select their strongest teams. Players such as Samu Manoa, Cam Dolan, Scott LaValla, Taku Ngwenya, Chris Wyles, Tyler Ardron, Jamie Cudmore, Jeff Hassler Taylor Paris and DTH van der Merwe would be able to play during these months similar to Georgia being able to select players based in France for the European Nations Cup.

Georgia has previously attracted notable crowds for November internationals against both Canada and the USA while Romania is a nation potentially on the rebound as rugby looks to gain lost ground following the end of communist rule. Should both countries be able to play against Canada and the USA every February and March they would have an increased quantity of marketable fixtures and also superior opposition to play against. With their being no promotion / relegation from Division 1A of the ENC to the Six Nations Georgia and Romania would appear to benefit significantly from a new competition bringing the top NACRA nations into the FIRA tournament. 

1 comment:

  1. Alternating between this North Atlantic Cup (odd years) and Six Nations B (even years) seems like a great idea. But replacing it would hurt Russia, Portugal and Spain.