Imagine a tent on an exposed clifftop being buffeted by using gale force winds. Those inside are already grimly clinging on, simplest for so-known as buddies to sneak spherical and do away with all the pegs. Welcome to the arena of professional rugby union, wherein pretty much each factor of the sport’s destiny is up in the air. From participant welfare and concussion to business uncertainty and political wrangling, there are days when it feels as though rugby is in final chance of dropping its bearings entirely. That appears to be the consensus amongst leading players, supporters and administrators following the ebook of the state-of-the-art blueprint for a proposed World League, a 12-group annual tournament intended to revitalize the traditional Test recreation for the advantage of all.
Some of the element turned into as chilling as it becomes brazen. Instead of Fiji, ranked 9th in the world, and Georgia (ranked twelfth), the leaked concept suggested locations could be reserved instead for Japan and the USA (ranked 11th and 13th respectively) by their larger economies. Top-degree rugby a game for international locations of all shapes and sizes? Not any more. “The loss of life of Pacific Island rugby” is how it has been described by way of one horrified union chief executive; he may have introduced that, were it to manifest, global rugby will officially forfeit its soul. What form of recreation regards it as progress in suffocating the international aspirations of nations which, pound for pound, produce the high-quality uncooked rugby expertise on earth? What form of legal global amusement industry makes a decision it simplest desires to hold out with its properly-heeled pals, slicing adrift anyone without a properly-staffed wallet? And what does it do each for the standard of rugby in nations outdoor the elite and the competitiveness of destiny World Cups? No marvel the game’s governing body, World Rugby, was quick to try to douse the ensuing flames. Nothing is set in stone, handiest an offer, now not what we’re looking to achieve and so forth, and so on. Technically, too, World Rugby’s office holders are only the functionaries of the member unions, as opposed to white cat-stroking madmen operating on a whim. That stated, someone with a piece of influence – and the fingerprints of one prominent rugby nation were all over the NZ Herald story – would love this present day cynical world domination plan to happen.
And why no longer, given it would assure a dozen years of top broadcasting dosh and, potentially, get entry to loads more talented Pacific Island players? Why hang around and represent Fiji for the real honor and privilege when you could provide for all your extended own family by way of playing in more important, compelling matches of a better widespread somewhere else? Even with a 5-yr qualification length, that is probably to be a better guess than spending 12 years together with your nostril pressed as much as the window of the govt front room.
There will, unavoidably, similarly twist to this saga. One theory is that that is all approximately searching for to push the Six Nations closer to agreeing in future to promotion and relegation – or a play-off at least. After all, is a closed shop not what already exists in Europe? If the Six Nations wishes to stick to its establishment membership, how can any of the home unions complain approximately the machine being now not strictly meritocratic elsewhere? The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that some thought has to alternate. Rugby can’t with no end in sight stay at the razor-twine separating the competitive worldwide and membership video games; a manner additionally needs to be found to make the physical and mental demands on its players greater achievable. As the International Rugby Players’ forceful assertion emphasized, the game’s leading names are already buckling underneath the stress even before they may be requested to decide to 5 Tests on successive autumn weekends plus expanded lengthy-haul air travel. Johnny Sexton, the participant company’s president, described the modern day proposals as “out of touch” and, as such, they do not presently have the gamers’ aid. Reforming the ad-hoc Test time table and dovetailing it better with domestic fixture lists has topped the game’s desire-listing for nearly three a long time now. In that feel, not anything has changed, apart from the feeling of urgency. “If you question me as a businessman, the business side of rugby is not operating,” said World Rugby’s vice-chairman, Agustín Pichot, in September, urging everybody within the sport to come to their senses. “If you inquire from me the gambling facet isn’t running. Is the common game beneath danger? I think it’s miles. I’m now not going to be a partner to rugby’s destroy.” Almost six months also down the line, that last word continues to resonate. Rugby urgently desires to locate the right answers with participant welfare at their coronary heart. Cutting off the have-nots to make life cozier for the haves can’t be the way ahead if rugby wishes to keep even a semblance of a collective conscience.