On the occasion of the World Cup, rugby seeks to become “a real world sport”

In 2023, rugby blew its 200e candle. And as the 2023 World Cup begins on Friday, September 8, with a clash between France and New Zealand (at 9:15 p.m.), two historic bastions of the World Oval, all the countries in the world don’t have the same piece of the birthday cake on their plate. On the planet, the distribution of this sport remains largely unequal.

“While we now have 132 member nations of World Rugby, we are aware that it is a powerful sport in only a handful of these countries”recognized Alan Gilpin, the director general of the international federation, questioned by The world 100 days before the opening match. ” Also, it is essential to develop this sport on a planetary scale, to make it a real world sport, which it is not yet. »

Number of participations in a World Cup

Number of World Cups won

World Cup 2023

Countries not qualified but having already participated in a World Cup

Out of nine World Cups played, eight have been won by
the three giants of the southern hemisphere : there New Zealand (1987, 2011, 2015), theAustralia
(1991, 1999) and theSouth Africa (1995, 2007, 2019, who did not compete in the first two editions).

If they left only crumbs for others for a long time, their hegemony is less obvious today. New Zealand are just recovering from a bad patch and Australia is struggling to regain its aura of yesteryear.

The major European nations therefore have nothing to envy them, even if these three selections remain obvious candidates for the title.

The nations of the British Isles (England,
Ireland, Wales, Scotland), historic cradle of rugby, and France are home to the largest federations and the best clubs in the world. However, the world title escapes them almost systematically. Only England managed to reach this grail in 2003.

This year, Ireland and France are two big favourites. The XV of Clover has never ped the quarter-finals and the XV of France lost three times in the final (1987, 1999, 2011).

There Georgia has been loyal to the World Cup since 2003 and has dominated the Six Nations B tournament, Europe’s second division, for more than a decade.

Historically known for their rough pillars surrounded by a solid pack of forwards, the Lelos have since diversified and genized their game.

The only Asian representative in the World Cup, the
Japan has been participating since the competition was created in 1987. The 14e nation in the world ranking has even made a strong impression in the last two editions. In 2015 by beating South Africa and in 2019 by reaching the quarter-finals on their soil after defeating Ireland and Scotland.

They haven’t beaten a major nation since. Isolated during the Covid-19 crisis, the Brave Blossoms (“brave flowers”) have regressed and seem to be less in a position to create surprise.

THE pacific islands (Fiji,
Samoa And Tonga) are full of talented players. But, geographically isolated and financially weak, they often see their nuggets expatriate in large numbers to their New Zealand and Australian neighbors, or even to the other side of the globe in Europe.

In 2022, a relaxation of the rule on the change of sporting nationality has allowed many of them to be able to return to play with their country of origin. A significant reinforcement to hope to qualify for the quarter-finals.

New to the competition this year, the
Chile enters the very exclusive club of twenty-six nations that have already taken part in the World Cup.

After qualifying at the expense of the United States, the Condores will cross paths with their Argentinian neighbors in the group stage. This will be the first encounter between two South American nations in the World Cup.

Because beyond the six European countries forming the Six Nations Tournament (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy), as well as the behemoths of the southern hemisphere (New Zealand, South Africa, Australia) , rugby is struggling to see new strongholds emerge. “The same nations have been emerging for thirty years”, notes Yvonnick Le Lay, ociate researcher in sports geography at Rennes-II University. This specialist in the globalization of rugby explains that “Japan or Georgia have succeeded in developing the discipline, but without managing to compete at the highest level”.

“The gap is narrowing”

Having become a big fish in the small jar of the Six Nations B Tournament, Georgia regrets not having more of an opportunity to face the elite of rugby. “The only way to keep improving is to play top teams frequently.insisted Ioseb Tkemaladze, the president of the Georgian Rugby Federation, interviewed in the fall of 2021. If rugby is to grow around the world, some things have to change. » In order to allow, in particular, a better distribution of the financial benefits linked to the various competitions.

Read the report (2021): Article reserved for our subscribers For Georgia, the path of rugby goes through France

Still, the difference in level – which for a long time evoked wide moats – is gradually becoming a ditch. “The gap is closing and that’s a good thing for rugby in generalgreeted the Fijian coach, Simon Raiwalui, after his men defeated England at Twickenham (30-22), August 26, to complete their preparation. It’s really good to witness the progression of teams that have historically struggled. » For the Fijian technician, whose team is in a balanced group, with Wales and Australia in particular, and aims to go far, this progress is partly explained by “more equity, now, in terms of preparation” : like most of the “big” teams, Fiji benefited from nearly two months of training this summer, and “see the benefits”.

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