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Future of the "rugby's minnows"



Ongoing world cup has been unlike any other in a way that minnows of the tournament played games against the top teams extremely well (compared to the before tournament expectations).
Namibia, Georgia, Portugal, Japan, Tonga -- played far better then anticipated against top-tier teams.
It is true that there was no real upset (Ireland did win against Georgia at the end),
but the widely believed notion that even second squad of any top team easily and without really trying hard can beat minnows at any time is under the question mark.
Personally, I think it is a good thing. I would love to see the WC where 20 teams compete on equal grounds, (although I do realize it will take a lot of time if possible at all).

How do you see the future of today's minnows? Is it a trend or just one time fluctuation from the established world rugby order? Will they be able to keep up with expectations? Do you think minnows will be able to play competitively with top tier teams in 8 years from now (going to the quarter-finals maybe)? What can be done to help minnows develop the game?
Greetings Lado, and welcome to TRF. Loving your signature, by the way :lol: !

To answer your question, well I think that if there`s one area where the IRB has failed, it`s been to take a more active role in growing the game in the "minnow" unions. Sure, the RWC concept in itself has been a great showcase for all the countries, and we`ve seen some nations making great progress as a result. But the awarding of the RWC for 2011 to one of the established nations, instead of Japan, was a huge step backwards IMO.

Right, how do I see the "minnows" performing in 2011? Well, Italy was also a so-called "minnow" not too long ago. But due to some support from the IRB, they`ve now become a legitimate top 10 nation. Also, as recently as maybe less than 10 years ago, Argentina was also considered a "minnow", and now they are definate SF contenders, and a top 4 team on the IRB ratings. So it can be done. And from what I`ve seen from especially Georgia and Romania, those 2 teams might soon, within the next 5-10 years, also join the top 12 or so nations. From where a QF spot is not too difficult to imagine.

Sadly for countries like Tonga and Namibia, they are just too small to make a real impact in the future. If Tonga can join forces with the other 2 PI teams, well then I can see a definite SF contender as early as 2011 already, but on their own, the numbers are just not there.
The growth of the minnows HAS been helped recently at an international level by the IRB. Development officers have reinforced (through coaching) the skills of many teams at the world cup and have carried out short, but rapid, upskilling sessions with teams like Namibia et al.

The IRB has also funded and managed numerous international representative tournaments, with money generated from the World Cups. This includes the Pacific Nations Cup, which includes 2 teams from each of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, and the Pacific 6 nations. From these tournaments the (pacific based) pacific island players have been able to gain higher levels of experience. Other international tournaments have been funded by the IRB including the Nations Cup (Italy A, Arg A, SA A, Georgia, Namibia and Romania) which has given tier 2 nations more top level exposure.

But I think you'll find that teams will only get stronger if they can have more players playing top level club rugby. The best players in the Tier 2 nations are those that play for top European clubs. And players have openly stated that, if they don't have a contract with a European club, then one of their aims for the tournament is to play well enough to be offered one.

The benifits of professionalism applies to all of the pacific teams, all european teams and also those from Africa and America. Basically, more players from minnow nations need to be exposed to top level club rugby.

For this reason the American countries need to establish a professional league as soon as it is viable. If this was to occur, then players from the USA and Canada would become alot better in a very short time period. If this club comp could be set up within 2-3years time then by 2015 the US and Canadian national teams would be more than capable of competing with Scotland and Italy for a place in the Top10.

Similarly, unless Argentina can establish professional rugby, at club level in Argentina, then they will remain at the same level they are now. The reason Argentina are as good as they are is because they play as fulltime professionals in Europe. If they had a professional environment in Argentina then the game could expand in that nation immensely.

And if players from Argentina were to play professionally at home, rather than in France, Italy and the UK, then thier places could be taken up by Portuguese, Romanians and Georgians. In the short and medium term these poorer Unions cannot feasible create a pro Club competition of their own, to upskill their players. However, if more of these guys were playing pro rugby then their national teams would become stronger.

Rugby these days is a business as well as a sport. To be strong, a national team needs as many pro players as possible. So to increase the number of pro players there needs to be more professional leagues. The obvious place to start is in North America and Argentina, and this is where the IRB should be concentrating the next cash injection.

Expanding an strengthening the Japanese Top League should also be looked at, but this comp allready has reasonable funding sources.

Forcing the hand of pro club comps is another option. Forcing every club team to have at least 2 players on their books from a Tier 2 nation would mean more exposure for these players.

But to conclude, I don't think the IRB has been wasting the money it has recieved from the World Cups. They have put in place some good competitions, but obviously more work is needed.

The fact that the minnows have improved, mainly against the established European teams suggests that the larger proportion of foreign players in European leagues has strengthened the Tier 2 nations, whilst weakening the home nations.

I think the IRB needs to guide the establishment of more professional rugby leagues to give more opportunities to Tier 2 players. This will take time, so I don't see the Teir 2 nations improving greatly in 2011. If more professional players can emerge from the minnows then by 2015 we should start to see the effects.

On a brief side note, I also think that the defensively dominant nature of rugby at the moment has meant that scorelines are a little flattering. If the ELV changes are made soon then we are likely to see more blowout scorelines in 2011 unfortunately. Just take a look at the ARC week to week to see how much scorelines blowout if you're not on top of your game with these rules.
On a brief side note, I also think that the defensively dominant nature of rugby at the moment has meant that scorelines are a little flattering. If the ELV changes are made soon then we are likely to see more blowout scorelines in 2011 unfortunately. Just take a look at the ARC week to week to see how much scorelines blowout if you're not on top of your game with these rules.

Thank you for interesting and informative replies guys.

It will be much more difficult for smaller teams to play with giants once ELV changes are made (Especially for teams like Georgia whose main advantage lies in forward's physical strength, they like to play pick-and-go style and fill comfortable pushing the maul over goal-line). I think the changes will make the game more interesting though (not completely sure, I think this topic merits separate post, what do you say?).
One thing that has really helped has been the targeted iRB funding to the smaller nations spent on specific things to get short term benefits. Namibia for example benefited from an iRB grant to pay for a dedicated good quality skills coach to come over and work with them in the run up to and during the Rugby World Cup.

Also, funding the North America 4 competition as well as intending to turn it into a fully professional league within years was an inspired decision. North America needs a league so it can grow within its existing confines. Simply sending players to Europe isn't doing the business for them.

Japan has the funding and the desire in place to develop further. They just need the exposure. It just needs a big victory or something similar to set it off in the minds of ordinary Japanese. Remember that until the 2002 World Cup, while allot of Japanese could reel off names of celebrity soccer players, that was only because in a society obsessed with so called 'idols' and similar role models it is perfectly acceptable to idolise someone like David Beckham without having an absolute clue about who he is or what he does for a living.

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