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What would happen if World Rugby really did implement this plan for a global league?
World Rugby is reportedly considering a global league of the top 12 teams and a global league of the next 12 in two pool-play and championship competitions to take place in June/July and November.
This was reported by Midi Olympique in France and the Sunday Times in London.
The idea would be to have six teams in the North and six in the South play off each year for some kind of global title — skipping World Cup years.
1. Tours Might Finally Die
The concept of the rugby tour, something that is close to every player’s heart, could finally die a death after a small attempt to revitalize it.
November usually brings Southern Hemisphere teams to the north, playing a series of games against the Home Nations, which has been how rugby has been played on the international stage for over 100 years. But in the South, we haven’t seen the same situation because the distances and the nations involved are so huge.
But France toured South Africa for a three-game series in 2017, and England did the same in 2018. It was an attempt to replicate the traveling fan interest of the British and Irish Lions tour, and it worked.
But if you take up the three test match windows with pool play for a global league, all of that disappears.
The whole idea of challenging the next 10 years of the callendar agreed in SF is to give more games and Pathways to emergent countries (stop using t2).... and this is MY personal view. And maybe not everyone agrees... but havent spoke about it as this article says https://t.co/qjZlMHtfvE— agustin pichot (@AP9_) September 24, 2018
2. Tier 2 Nations Might Move Up
The current World Rugby Rankings are flawed in that they don’t really account for teams that aren’t beating the very best but that are still improving. Should the USA lose to, say, New Zealand by 60 or by three, it makes no difference to the USA’s ranking score, and it should.
As a result, while top nations can pile up wins and rankings points, it becomes harder and harder for teams ranked 10 to 20 to move up.
But in a global league, if you perform well, you move up in ranking. And if there’s a promotion-relegation system, even better.
3. Other Traditions Are Hurt
Can The Rugby Championship and the Six Nations survive when the test windows are taken up by this league? The proposal doesn’t seem to affect the Six Nations (or the Americas Rugby Championship) but would affect The Rugby Championship. (It’s worth noting that The Rugby Championship attendance is down a whopping 25 percent this year over last, down to about 27,000 fans per match.)
So maybe it’s time to shake things up.
4. It Might Settle Club-Versus-Country Conflict
If this manages to formalize exactly what weekends there are games and World Rugby controls and directs when games happen, we could see the European clubs settle down and accept that a) players need time off in the summer, and b) November is international time.
Conversely, right now a club can wield a little power to confined a player (usually from a Tier 2 national) to pass up an international callup — especially for a game that has no meaning. But if it’s a Global League game? Clubs might have to knuckle under more.
5. This Could Hurt The British & Irish Lions
Speaking of tours, as we do up top, the tour-of-all-tours every four years is the B&I Lions tour in June or July every four years. But if there’s a global league playing at that time, does the tour take a back seat, or does the league. (Hint — it’s the league.) Oh, and the Barbarians? What happens to the Barbarians?
6. World Rugby Could Control Sponsorship Dollars
Did World Rugby look at the fact that much of the organization’s funding comes from the quadrennial Rugby World Cup (men), and think — hey, if we can get that Sevens World Series to bring in some money, maybe we can do that even more for 15s. If we can have 36 meaningful test matches that we (World Rugby) control, then we can sell sponsorships and make these games money-makers, not money-losers.
With preparations for @RugbyWorldCup 2019 well underway, World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper discusses the lasting impact that he hopes the competition will have on young people throughout Asia. pic.twitter.com/U2SmWs6G58— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) September 20, 2018
7. Tier 1 Fans Won’t See The Games They Want
Think of it this way. Right now, England fans see two or three home nations games at Twickenham in the Six Nations, and can usually count on New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa to visit in November. Maybe not all of those, but at least two. But look at a potential Global League pool setup:
Pool 1: New Zealand. France. Tonga, England, Argentina, Scotland
Pool 2: Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Fiji, Wales, Japan
In this scenario, England plays New Zealand, but fans don’t get to see South Africa or Australia for a whole year (unless they end up playing on the final weekend).
This setup is not especially desirable for Home Nations fans. In Pool 1, Scotland might host France, New Zealand, and Tonga. OK, not bad, except fans see France every other year anyway, and we've seen attendance drop for the likes of Tonga.
Will Irish fans travel to South Africa for a one-off away test?
Lots to think about if this plan comes to fruition in 2020. World Rugby has a year or so to figure it out.