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

Namibia

Proud minnows: Namibia’s 142-0 rout by Australia in 2003 damaged the game’s credibility. Pic: Getty

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

Fan fervour: But rugby in Portugal has been on a downward spiral since their feats of 2007 (Pic: AFP/Getty Images)

Fan fervour: But rugby in Portugal has been on a downward spiral since their feats of 2007 (Pic: AFP/Getty)

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.

  • Peter Ross

    If teams don’t get an opportunity to compete at the highest level what’s the point in having a national team. The soccer world cup lets the minnows in as it’s a world tournament not just for highest ranked nations. Japan’s amazing victory really quenches this debate now.

  • Wayne Nickoli

    There aren’t even 16 competitive nations in rugby. What would happen in a Japan v All Blacks? USA is not giving any of the top eight nations a test either. 20 nations makes rugby look like more of a world sport than it is. That’s probably the point. As a citizen of a “minnow” nation I can tell you I am eagerly awaiting seeing my boys get hammered by the big boys. I know the loss is inevitable. There is pride in seeing a good effort and brave work. I hope it doesn’t spoil your World Cup too much to see every nation other than NZ SA AUS ENG and maybe France with no chance of winning the cup or even getting past the first knock out. That’s the real truth of the RWC.

  • robdoeslife

    I don’t think the ‘minnows’ get better without tough competition. Plus, the opportunity to play on the international stage like this only serves to increase the fanbase for rugby in their countries. There are way more positives than negatives in having expanded pools.

  • Francisco

    The situation with Portugal is different…. you should – and you can – contact some players, managers and directors to know why and what happened since 2007… between 2007 and 2010 we were in the right direction… but after 2012, rugby in Portugal started to get more confuse and in total chaos. Why? Mainly, because of the troublesome “relationship” between the Federation, Clubs and players. Thanks for the article!