Wednesday, July 16, 2014

International Rugby: Confederations Cup would Enhance Global Game

Image IRB
Rugby is a unique sport spread worldwide with differing abilities of teams spread fairly evenly in global terms. Countries that have been able to qualify for every Rugby World Cup since the tournament expanded to twenty teams for the 1999 tournament come from all six IRB identified regions. Selecting the best per region to create a Confederations Cup is therefore a possibility with the tournament serving to help showcase the sport and enable the next Rugby World Cup host nation to better prepare the tournament. 

With Australia hosting the British and Irish Lions in mid 2013 and New Zealand hosting France South Africa was left without a Tier One side at full strength to host in the June internationals. The union acted to make the most out of an unfavorable situation and hosted Italy, Samoa and Scotland in an international series in which all four countries faced one-another in South Africa.

Played as double-headers the matches were a success and a repeat is real possibility in 2017 with the British and Irish Lions set to tour New Zealand. The tournament was, in effect, a mini-Confederations Cup as taking part were four countries from three continents. Matches were played exclusively on weekends and with adjustments made to begin slightly earlier and finish one weekend later the tournament model would be able to be applied on a larger scale. 

Two varieties worth serious consideration would see it either operate as either a six or an eight team competition, thereby becoming a genuine Confederations Cup. Under a six team format the winners of regional qualification would all compete while under an eight team format the same six would be joined by the winner of the previous Rugby World Cup and the host nation of the forthcoming tournament.

The global governing body of soccer, FIFA has an eight team event with the teams divided into two pools of four. For the most recent competition played in June 2013 the host nation, Brazil, was joined by 2010 World Champions Spain and the winners of each of the six regional competitions except for UEFA. With Spain being not only the 2010 World Cup winners but also the 2012 UEFA Euro champions Italy qualified as the 2012 UEFA runner-up.

Qualifying from other regions were Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Tahiti and Uruguay. Based on performances at the 2014 FIFA World Cup the allocation of positions is of extreme note. Italy, Japan and Spain were all eliminated in the first phase while Mexico, Nigeria and Uruguay exited at the round of sixteen. As such Brazil was the only 2013 Confederations Cup competitor involved in the Quarter Finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Tahiti did not compete and Oceania is not given an automatic spot which has seen Australia competing in Asia.

In regional terms an argument could be made to suggest that a Confederations Rugby Cup would be more competitive than that of the soccer variety. In the eighty-four year history of the FIFA World Cup all winners have been either South American or European. The Rugby World Cup, on the other hand had winners from Africa, Europe and Oceania in its first twenty-four years.

The six regional bodies of rugby, as recognized by the IRB could therefore have their champions all qualify for a Confederations Rugby Cup taking place during either the June or November internationals in the year before the Rugby World Cup. As in soccer they could be joined by the host of the next World Cup and the winners of the previous tournament.

Work would be required from the IRB and the regional bodies to enable a qualification process to have all participants earn their places in the tournament. This would be true even of South Africa and Argentina, countries with no genuine challenges in their regions. The method utilized in the 2014 South American Championship would be a suitable solution for Africa with the top two sides from the African Cup advancing to play in an African version of the CONSUR Cup.

This would also enable matches such as the All Blacks playing in Samoa to carry value. Indeed the creation of an Oceania Cup would give meaning to such fixtures and enable the winner of the southern section of the Pacific Nations Cup to face Australia and New Zealand in a Tri-Series with the winner qualifying for the Confederations Cup.

Similarly, in Europe the winner of the FIRA European Nations Cup (ENC) ought to dispute Europe's allocated position by playing against the top two sides from the Six Nations. In other words Georgia would be able to host an opponent such as France or Ireland. The same would hold true in North America and the Caribbean with Canada and the USA facing the winner of a NACRA Cup while in Asia the existing Five Nations would not need altering whatsoever.

Finding room in the rugby calendar for these fixtures would arguably be a more than negotiable task. CONSUR, ARFU and NACRA would need no extra time and nor would CAR as South Africa could replicate Argentina by fielding understrength teams and still be too strong. FORU would require two weekends for the winner, Fiji for instance, to play both Australia and New Zealand while the Bledisloe Cup match could double as qualification. Options exist in June and July. The FIRA champion could play its two matches in August ahead of the kick-off to the European professional season with the Six Nations match also doubling.

Team
Region
Qualification Method
England
Europe (FIRA)
2015 World Cup hosts
New Zealand
Oceania (FORU)
2011 World Cup Winners
Ireland
Europe (FIRA)
European Cup* Winners
Argentina
South America (CONSUR)
CONSUR Cup Winners
Canada
North America (NACRA)
NACRA Cup* Winners
Japan
Asia (ARFU)
Asian Five Nations Winners
Australia
Oceania (FORU)
Oceania Cup*  Runners-Up
South Africa
Africa (CAR)
Africa Cup* Winners

Dividing teams into pools could be organized according to IRB World Rankings with no teams from the same region being pooled together. The opportunity of Australia facing New Zealand would therefore not exist until either the Semi Final or Final. Dividing the teams into two pools would mean three matches each, the exact format used by FIFA. The winners and runners-up would qualify for the Semi Finals.

Pool A
Pool B
South Africa
New Zealand
Ireland
England
Australia
Argentina
Japan
Canada

Looking ahead to Rugby World Cup 2015 a Rugby Confederations Cup could be played in November 2014 in England. Those from outside of Europe not involved could, in theory, play November internationals in Europe against European nations outside of the tournament. Based on the above model Ireland and England would miss out thus enabling France, Italy, Scotland and Wales to host incoming tours against the likes of Rugby World Cup regulars Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the USA. Ireland could be compensated by the IRB for missing out on hosting tests at this time.

The event would facilitate the promotion of the Rugby World Cup by encouraging the population to attend noteworthy matches at a variety of venues eleven months before the World Cup. In the specific case of England the organizing committee could acquire the use of 2015 venues for the tournament. From November 9-21 there will be no Premier League soccer matches, thus facilitating the use of 2015 venues for the purposes of rugby.   

Date
Match
Venue
Fri. October 31
England v New Zealand
Twickenham
Sat. November 1
Australia v Japan
Brighton
Sat. November 1
Argentina v Canada
Gloucester
Sun. November 2
South Africa v Ireland
Twickenham
Thurs. November 6
England v Canada
Leicester
Fri. November 7
New Zealand v Argentina
Leicester
Sat. November 8  
Australia v Ireland
Milton Keynes
Sun. November 9
South Africa v Japan
Leeds
Fri. November 14
New Zealand v Canada
Birmingham
Sat. November 15
Australia v South Africa
Leeds
Sat. November 15
Ireland  V Japan
Newcastle
Sun. November 16
England v Argentina
Manchester
Sat. November 22
Winner A v Runner-up B
Twickenham
Sun. November 23
Winner B v Runner-up A
Twickenham
Sat. November 29
Winner SF 1 v Winner SF 2
Twickenham

2 comments:

  1. The gap between tier 1 and tier 2 national teams is huge. I think that it would be wiser to split them, in some way or another.

    There's talk about a Sanzar U20 Rugby Championship, similar to the U20 Six Nations. I guess that tier 1 teams would love to do an annual IRB World League, with the top 2 teams in the year's Six Nations and Rugby Championship, as a complement to the tours.

    Meanwhile, an option for tier 2-3 teams would be to create an IRB World Trophy for 12-16 teams. But I think that it would have very little media coverage or promotion.

    It would be better if the IRB World Cup was expanded to 24 teams, with three Cup groups for the top 12 and three Plate groups for the remaining teams. The top 8 Cup teams would play Cup playoffs; the other 4 Cup teams and the top 4 Plate teams would play the Plate playoffs. The total number of matches doesn't increase, and there's no tier 1-tier3 matches.

    Another option for tier 2 teams is to develop the IRB Nations Cup, Tbilisi Cup and Pacific Nations Cup. Those tornaments feature tier 2 teams from Europe and Asia-Pacific, but also tier 1 development teams (Argentina Jaguars, Emerging Ireland, Emerging Italy), which is great. There could be a four-team tournament in November with the winners, including both conferences of the Pacific Nations Cup, and excluding the tier 1 development teams.

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  2. ive always said that the
    IRB has many things to learn from fifa and should take note the way things are done when it comes to spreading there respective sport. yes there is corruption and bribery left and right but competitions are plenty for soccer around the world and for each nation and countries dont have to worry about this title 9 issue.

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