The impossible reform of world rugby

During the World Cup match between Fiji and Portugal, at the Toulouse Stadium, October 8, 2023.

VSow can we make a sport rooted in its traditions a global discipline without losing its soul? For World Rugby, the body which presides over the destiny of world rugby, the question is not new. Committed to developing the practice of rugby throughout the world, the international federation finds itself juggling magnets that repel each other: on one side, the rugby aristocracy (New Zealand, England, South Africa, France, Australia …), attached to maintaining its traditions, on the other, emerging nations (Uruguay, Portugal, Samoa…), which dream of revolution.

“It is essential to grow this sport, to make it a truly global sport, which it is not yet”, recognized the director general of the body, Alan Gilpin, in May. If it was a success in France, the 2023 World Cup demonstrated it once again. Its final phase featured some breathtaking duels, but the same cannot be said of the group phase, which shone a harsh light on the gap between “the clowns on one side and the big owners on the other”in the words of Chile coach Pablo Lemoine, at the end of one of the many World Cup matches that ended with a clear score.

However, between Portugal, winner of Fiji, Uruguay, who upset France, or Samoa, very close to beating England, new shoots have sprung up. And revived debates on the format of international competitions, which offer few opportunities for “little ones” to become competitive. To strengthen themselves, they are demanding to play more high-level matches before being plunged into the deep end of the World Cup.

Redesign of calendars

uring that it is aware that, to grow, this sport must open up more to emerging countries, World Rugby announced, on October 24 – a few days before the final – an overhaul of the international calendars. From 2026, a new multi-level competition, the Nations Cup, will enter the men’s international circuit every two years. But its first division will be reserved for twelve countries (the members of the Six Nations, those of the Rugby Championship, to which Japan and Fiji are added), and it will be difficult for the “rest of the world” to join.

There ” new era “ praised by Bill Beaumont, the British president of World Rugby, “which will benefit the greatest number, and no longer a minority”, seems far from a revolution. At most it adds a layer to the historical sedimentation of competitions, but without upsetting the great balances; and those first concerned were not mistaken. “This competition was supposed to be a beacon of hope for smaller rugby nations, giving us the chance to compete with some of the giants of our sport (…)but that dream was shattered »denounced, on InstagramSamoan flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, evoking a “slap” sent to the faces of the “little ones”.

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