Rugby World Cup restructure!

Rugby World Cup (File)
Rugby World Cup (File)
In the age of professionalism, different sporting codes are facing an identity crisis as they try to satisfy the ever growing demands of a wide array of stakeholders, including the media, corporate entities, the players, and off course, the general public and avid fans.
It is for this reason that sports such as rugby and cricket have recently embarked on a process of introspection by which they strive to reinvent the game to satisfy the viewing needs of fans that has of late, lost interest in watching the same format, played by the same rules, week-in and week-out.
To this extent, we have seen the rise of quicker, fast-paced formats of the game such as the exciting sevens rugby (IRB Sevens Worls Series) and T20 (T20 World Cup, IPL) cricket. These shortened versions most definitely contributed to expanding the sports’ fan-base and allowed for a heightened, albeit short-lived, level of excitement. However, it did cop some serious flak from purists who argue it has weakened the tried and tested conventional formats and negatively affected the skill-set of dual-code players.
Not to delve too deep into the endless debate surrounding the merits for and against such shortened formats, I am of the opinion that the most fans find sevens and T20 appealing not so much for the fact that it is fast-paced, but for the way in which it breaks the stronghold of conventional superpowers and allow minnows the opportunity to perform at the highest level.
Case in point is the manner in which the Netherlands performed in the current T20 World Cup. Irrespective of their quick exit from the final tournament, it was thrilling to see them qualify and even more exciting to witness how they demolished England.

In short, it levels the playing field which will not only develop the game in terms of skills and competitiveness, but broaden the fan-base to countries not conventionally associated with cricket.

I would argue that it is also for this reason that the Sevens World Series has been so successful - on a regular basis we see smaller countries (in terms of its position on the 15-man code global rankings) such as Kenya, Portugal and the USA rise to the occasion to perform on par with giants such as South Africa and New Zealand. This being said, we have to concede that sevens is a totally different version of rugby and cannot really be compared to the manner in which T20 relates to Limited Overs Internationals and Tests.
This brings me to actually crux of my argument. It is my considered opinion that the International Rugby Board (IRB) should restructure the prestigious Rugby World Cup along the lines of a sevens tournament to allow a broader base of participation among smaller countries.
Currently the RWC is structured to allow the participation of 16 nations, divided into four groups, each containing four teams. The top two teams from each pool qualify for the knock-out rounds and the rest go home. I always find it quite sad and disappointing when the minnows are knocked out, even though they at times give the larger countries a good run for their money. Examples include the likes of Fiji and Samoa, and in some cases, even high ranking nations such as Scotland and Ireland.  
I propose that after completion of the round robin matches, the tournament be divided into two tiers - a Championship Division and a Premier Division. The bottom two teams from each pool therefore qualify for the Premier Division and the top two go through to the Championship. From here the two divisions follow the exact same format as the current RWC knock-out stages - quarters, semi’s and the grand final. The knock-out games in the Premier Division will serve as the curtain raisers for the knock-out games in the Champion Division, with the final of the Premier Division to be held prior to the 3rd and 4th place play-off match. The final of the Champion Division will therefore still take place separately and will continue to remain the ultimate showpiece of world rugby.
This proposal does however differ from the one currently used in the sevens format, in the sense that bigger unions to not qualify for the second division when the get knocked from the quarter-finals. As with the Blitzbokke the past weekend, we saw how a larger nation qualifies (through their quarter-final exit to England) and then goes on to win that division. Knock-out phases in the Rugby World Cup will remain just that - losers go home, the winners go through to the next round.
Such a proposal will see the continuation of the current tournament in its original form, but will allow smaller nations more time of the global stage. Competition amongst the “weaker” teams in each pool will therefore be more intense, as your position in the bottom two places of the pool will determine your opponents in the quarter-finals of the Premier Division.
Although such a proposal looks sound on paper, there are various points of contention for and against the idea that will however warrant a separate opinion piece altogether. It however remains food for thought that by adding a second division, it will not only increase our viewing pleasure, but also revenue to the ultimate benefit of developing the game across the globe. Certainly a proposal that will appease the hunger of corporate greed that continues to make decision regarding the future of rugby in the “best interest of our players”.
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