The World Cup in Japan proved that second-tier nations can stage big games and tournaments when given the opportunity, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The 2023 World Cup will be staged in France. The tournament is expected to generate a significant financial return for World Rugby, who will be looking to offset the losses suffered during the current Covid-19 crisis.
Australia are the front-runners to host the subsequent global tournament in 2027. Beyond that, World Rugby would do well to take the World Cup to one of the less traditional centres or, at the very least, give the tier-two nations an opportunity to host World Cup pool matches.
Some felt that World Rugby had erred in giving Japan the 2019 tournament. And yet, by the time the competition concluded with South Africa lifting the Webb Ellis Cup on 2 November, most were in agreement that it will go down as one of the most unforgettable World Cups in history.
The locals embraced the tournament wholeheartedly, whether their team was playing or not. More recently, foreign players based in the Top League competition – like Duane Vermeulen and Malcolm Marx – have confirmed that there is still a World Cup buzz around Japan some six months later.
Could another country follow Japan’s lead in future? USA coach Gary Gold told SARugbymag.co.za that World Rugby would be wise to consider staging a tournament somewhere new and ultimately boosting the development in that region.
‘I am encouraged when I see how much a rugby nation like Japan has grown over the past decade,’ said Gold, who has previously coached in the Far East. ‘The national side was really struggling a few years back. The Top League sides were run by companies. A lot changed when they won the right to host the World Cup in terms of development.
‘USA rugby has taken some giant strides if you consider that the national side won 10 out of 11 games in 2018 and got the MLR competition off the ground. It doesn’t have the same resources as the RFU, though. I hate the cliche of it being a sleeping giant, because until it has the right financial backing, the giant will struggle to rise.’
Gold reiterated that the complexion of the game in Japan changed once it was confirmed that they would host the 2019 World Cup. If the USA, or another tier-two nation, received a similar opportunity, it would do wonders for the growth of rugby in the country.
In the long term, the Eagles might be able to compete against the major nations. That may sound far-fetched at this point, but one has to remember how Japan have transformed into a side with the ability to beat South Africa (2015) as well as Ireland and Scotland (2019).
‘We’ve seen how far the USA Sevens team has come on the international circuit,’ Gold said. ‘That’s because sevens became an Olympic sport and the USA Olympic committee invested resources into development of players and ultimately the opportunity to win medals.
‘Now, imagine if something similar were to happen for the 15-man side. What if USA – perhaps together with Canada – could host a World Cup?
‘I’m just using the USA as an example. What would a World Cup do for Argentina? Australia is bidding for the 2027 World Cup, why shouldn’t they try and help the Pacific Nations by allowing a few fixtures to be staged in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga? We saw how successful that fixture between the Crusaders and Chiefs was in Suva last year. If South Africa gets the World Cup again, perhaps a game should be staged in Namibia.
‘It’s a good way to skin a few cats at once. Looking forward to 2023, it would have been great to see Spain, Romania or Georgia getting a pool game – just as some of the bigger European countries did when France hosted the World Cup in 2007.’