The pool rounds of the Rugby World Cup 2023 are over, and it is, perhaps, prudent to do a quick analysis of what we learnt of the first part of the Rugby World Cup based on the matches we’ve seen thus far and then to make a couple of observations thereafter.
Probably the biggest revelation is that the gulf between the “big guns” and the “minnows” is enormous, and growing ever wider. While there have always been so-called “cricket scores” at previous World Cups, it seems as if there are more and by bigger margins than before. In fact, we even had a so-called “Tier 1” nation, Italy, put to the sword by New Zealand having 90 points racked up against them. That, and the many other large scores makes a mockery of the concept of “strength vs strength” – and surely that is the point of a World Cup. The Football World Cup is that…at least for now. At the last FIFA World Cup 32 teams competed – but then again almost every country in world plays football. Rugby is not such a widely-played sport and yes, that is one of the reasons why rugby stages a world cup – to broaden the appeal of rugby. But in its current format it does not. It does the sport a disservice and, rather than build the sport, it is causing anger and frustration.
Namibia being beaten 4 times in three weeks at the tournament is useful in that Namibia at least gets to play against the “big guns”…problem is, for the next four years, until the next World Cup (if they qualify), they get no games against the good teams. None. Then the IRB does not seem to know them – until the numbers need to be made up for the next Rugby World Cup. The system as it stands is unworkable – there needs to be two world cups, or at least two different competitions – one where the top teams can compete, and another where the so-called “minnows” can compete with a realistic chance to win a game – and with promotion/relegation built in to reward improvement. Cricket does that well…the current Cricket World Cup features 10 national teams, of which two can be regards as “minnows” but they still had to come through a massive qualification process – and the result is virtually every game will be competitive.
I confess that apart from the opener and a handful of other games, including the Namibia games, I haven’t watched the 2023 Rugby World Cup – because, as far as I’m concerned, the real, competitive Rugby World Cup 2023 starts this coming weekend. And that’s not how it should be. Rugby fans like me should be keen on every game, not just some. Let’s hope the IRB will address this situation soon.