The likes of Uruguay and Namibia are set to suffer heavy beatings at RWC 2015. Mark Coughlan argues that rugby would be better served by reducing the entrants until such minnows are better resourced and more competitive
One week from now, the tournament will be off and running. England will either triumph over Fiji or hit a serious stumbling block. More pertinently, the second-lowest ranked side in the World Cup, Uruguay, will soon be kicking off their campaign and, barring a minor miracle, they will be beaten heavily by Wales.
Romania, Canada and Namibia join Uruguay as the lowest-ranked sides in the tournament, and let’s be frank – they’re likely to be fish in a barrel at this level. For the good of the tournament, and the good of the game, surely it’s time to drop five-team pools down to four. Let’s return to the 16-team format we had back at the start in 1987.
Before you jump down my throat and fill my Twitter timeline with abuse, let me quickly point out that I’m no minnow hater. In fact, I’ve vociferously argued in the past for the
inclusion of relegation into the Six Nations, a chance to give the likes of Georgia a shot at the top table. And the Rugby Championship has done well to open its doors to Argentina, but now needs to do more to aid the smaller nations Down South.
My problem, dear reader, is the lack of support given to these nations outside the World Cup, which then culminates in them being cannon fodder for the big boys. England finish their pool with a game against Uruguay on 10 October – can anyone genuinely say that is anything other than a chance to rest some weary legs ahead of the knockout stages? And does that make it fair on the likes of South Africa, who have to face Scotland and USA within four days, before a potential quarter-final against England. Issues with the schedule remain.
Give these smaller sides the support outside the tournament, and I’m all for some healthy competition. Make England face Portugal, Romania or Uruguay once a year and it might help matters. At the moment, though, the lads facing up to England on 10 October are probably playing the hosts for the one and only time in their career.
The argument is that these sides relish the chance to play on the big stage. Probably, yeah, but wouldn’t they relish it more if they had a genuine shot? Look at Portugal – they qualified for the 2007 tournament, and scored a try against New Zealand.
They got hammered week in, week out, though, conceding 209 points over four games, and the nation’s love of rugby has since faded since – the past four years have seen them finish
bottom in three of the four European Nations Cups, something they had only ‘achieved’ once in the previous six tournaments since 2002, and Portugal currently sit 29th in the World Rugby rankings, below Kenya, Belgium and Korea, to name but three.
The world is watching our glorious sport for just a few weeks, and seeing Goliath pummel David over and over again isn’t healthy. If we could at least arm David with the sling of financial support and regular big-name opposition, the fight might at least be fairer. Until then, wouldn’t it be better to see three epic pool encounters between four evenly-matched sides, rather than three close encounters and one unfair kind.
Is it a money issue? Perhaps. World Rugby have stadiums to fill and quotas to hit – hence the selection of football stadiums over the likes of Kingston Park and The Rec (don’t even get me started on Welford Road!). Maybe these fifth teams give them the chance to earn more money from a New Zealand try-fest and a record England score at Twickenham.
I don’t know the ins and outs of it, and I’m 100% NOT against the inclusion of minnows. All I’m saying is let’s give them a fair crack outside the tournament so they can have an impact when they get there. Until then, maybe David should just stay at home to play with his sheep.