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Mind the Gap (between Tiers)

Bruce_ma gooshvili

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I thought a thread to discuss the gap between Tiers 1&2 and Tiers2&3 would be worthwhile. The definition of Tiers varies and broadly coincides with how many votes a union has on the World Council (0, 1, 2 or 3).

To try and lay things out simply (unless corrected!) I would propose:

Tier1: has access to 6 Nations or The Rugby Championship and has at least one professional club side.

Tier2: has access to 6N or TRC OR has at least one professional or semi-pro club side (hypothetical, but I would argue this would include Argentina if the Jaguares closed down).

Tier3: amateur

There is a lot of politics behind all this, which I won't get bogged down with here. I will flag up that of the Tier2s, the Pacific Islands, Japan, USA and Canada are all given preferential treatment by Tier1s and increased exposure to Tier1 fixtures regardless of their ranking.

The San Francisco Agreement was a huge step in improving potential movement between Tiers by opening up access to Tier1 fixtures to two further Tier2s nations based on world ranking (currently Georgia and Romania). This agreement is in place until 2032 so provides a long term foundation for Tier2s to improve their level and makes matches between Tier2s more spicey as they all fight for access to Tier1 fixtures.

 

Bruce_ma gooshvili

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2021 - Tier 2 to Tier 1 gap review

There is a lot of projects bubbling away that are unfortunately being hampered by the pandemic. If they can survive, then MLR, SLAR, RESC & Toyota Challenge all have potential to accelerate development of Tier2 and Tier3 nations.

The best way to gauge the gap between Tiers is to look at results of matches between Tiers. In the End of Year Tests (EOYT) I consider the following fixtures were one where a Tier2 had a greater than 5% chance of beating a Tier1 or a Tier2 with favoured status.

- 23/10 Japan vs Australia (Aus win)
- 6/11 Ireland vs Japan (Ire win)
- 6/11 Spain vs Fiji (Fiji win)
- 20/11 Scotland vs Japan (Sco win)
- 20/11 Romania vs Tonga (Rom win)
- 20/11 Italy vs Uruguay (Ita win)
- 20/11 Georgia vs Fiji (draw)
- Portugal vs Japan (Jap win)

All but one of the above resulted in the underdog failing to win, so it looks negative. However only Japan being thumped by Ireland and Spain losing badly to Fiji were uncompetitive. Romania defeated a strong Tonga selection essentially only using players from Steaua Bucharest (runners up in the Superliga).

Japan did decent against Australia and Scotland, but almost lost to Portugal. Uruguay kept the score very respectable against Italy. In summer, Romania hosted Argentina and almost defeated them. Georgia, look as competitive against RSA and France as Italy would be, possibly more so. I'd argue that for so many of the above fixtures to be competitive games is a positive sign.

2022 - Tier2s to Watch

Pacific Islands - change in eligibility rule could potentially massively raise their level. New teams in Super Rugby for Fiji (Drua) and Tonga/Samoa (Moana Pacifika) means they will be able to cultivate younger prospects and provide pro contracts for interested players raised by other unions.

Japan - raising the standard of their domestic league with big contracts, but in a sensible way that will not ignore players developed at age grade by the Japanese union. Could potentially use 6N as leverage to pressurise The Rugby Championship into admitting them into the competition.

Georgia - pro contracts in the RESC. Top players in all positions getting exposure in the French league, not just forwards. Can consistently score tries in open play against Tier1 sides and showing improvement in play by backs. Should be hosting Italy this summer.

Romania - almost defeated a first XV Argentina. Great new modern stadium. Defeated first string Tonga with a second string Romanian side exclusively from the domestic league. Like Georgia, transitioning to better play by the backs. However, involvement in RESC and/or Toyota Challenge unclear and ongoing financial concerns for the domestic Superliga.

Uruguay - improving consistently via SLAR, already qualified for RWC. Ran Italy close in Italy.

Chile - meteoric rise via SLAR for a young side with average age of 24 and experimental selections at flyhalf and wing. Lots of upward potential yet and may qualify for RWC direct or via the repechage. Lack of depth in some positions so must avoid injuries.

Portugal - second only to Chile in the meteoric rise stakes. Almost defeated Japan and took some scalps in the REC. Chance of RWC qualification. Could improve further via RESC.

Russia - hired a new coach with excellent pedigree and expertise in youth and coach development (although this will likely result only in improvement over the longer term). Professional league seems well established and involved in RESC, so gaining access to additional games against Georgian pros.

Stagnating - Canada, Brazil, Spain (subject to an emergency performance review by World Rugby in November) and possibly USA (very nice league seems firmly established but questionmarks around national team coach and hindered by the demise of the Americas Rugby Championship of the 6 best national teams in the Americas).
 

Bruce_ma gooshvili

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2021 - Tier3 to Tier2 gap review

Not one I have observed so much. The main developments were Paraguay and Colombia having continued involvement in SLAR and Netherlands, Belgium and Israel being involved in RESC.

2022 - Tier3s to watch

Netherlands - play some attractive rugby and involved in RESC, but unusual selection policy there and remain amateur, so benefits appear unclear at this time.

Poland - making waves in the RE Trophy tournament with a young Welsh coaching staff. May be involved RESC shortly (unconfirmed) and appear likely to be promoted to the REC when it expands (unconfirmed).

Kenya - looked well coached, with an excellent half back pairing. Defeated pro players from Brazil, led Namibia at half time and may be included in the Toyota Challenge (unconfirmed). Cannot yet defend a maul adequately.

Israel - have several Israeli players in RESC being exposed to a high level against Russian and Georgian pros. Potential for this to turbo charge Israeli player development from what is currently a very low base.

China - have created an indigenous Chinese side for their domestic league (which is mainly ex-pats). Intend to field a team in NZ domestic scene, although unclear how feasible that will be with Chinese travel restrictions during pandemic.

Stagnating - Korea and Hong Kong. Hard to see how they may develop following demise of Global Rapid Rugby. Belgium and Germany continue to languish in the doldrums, although Belgian involvement in RESC may assist.
 

Yulia

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Netherlands - play some attractive rugby and involved in RESC, but unusual selection policy there
I liked the Netherlands in European cup, they have a potential :) but what do you mean under "unusual selection policy" there?
 

Bruce_ma gooshvili

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I liked the Netherlands in European cup, they have a potential :) but what do you mean under "unusual selection policy" there?
Sorry for the vagueness, instead of the Dutch picking their strongest side each week, they'd pick players from different local clubs, to try and get the clubs and players emotionally invested in the tournament. It is why in one week Delta could almost win in Spain and the games either side of that they would lose by 30+ points with a completely different set of players. I can see why they tried it but if they wish to gain supporters (and improve as a side) they need a more competitive team based on more consistent selection policy.

I agree the Dutch can look very promising, especially as they are currently pretty much only amateur (so I am told). They can run rings around some semi-pro players but obviously shouldn't have the same physical conditioning or tactical awareness. They are like a junior Portugal (possibly the most exciting Tier2 side to watch).

Also, I should have mentioned Colombia and Paraguay as Tier3s to watch due to SLAR, but I don't know what international fixtures they may get to show off any improvement in their form.
 

Bruce_ma gooshvili

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Portugal blew a 14 point second half lead against Italy. Agonising but overall very positive.

Chile getting pumped by Scottish reserves less so. Uruguay getting comfortably beaten by Japan over two tests also shows a gulf remains.
 

die_mole

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looked like a fairly strong Italy side that faced Portugal. Good result for Portugal.

Maybe we can just start Southern Hemisphere excuses rolling with the other ones.
 

Bruce_ma gooshvili

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Shvilis everywhere rejoice as it turns out Italy can win in Cardiff in the diddy 6N but Tblisi (against a Georgian coach) is just too high level!

Georgia 28 - 19 Italy

Didn't see that coming, which makes it all the sweeter. A good talking point for World Rugby discussions about the structure of the international game.
 

Tooting Carmen

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looked like a fairly strong Italy side that faced Portugal. Good result for Portugal.

Maybe we can just start Southern Hemisphere excuses rolling with the other ones.
Without wishing to belittle Portugal's close result, the Italy team they faced was considerably weaker than the one that later on faced Romania and Georgia.
 

die_mole

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Without wishing to belittle Portugal's close result, the Italy team they faced was considerably weaker than the one that later on faced Romania and Georgia.
From what I counted I think most of the team saw action in six nations but the bigger names sat out.

I think the biggest gap that is closing is that between tier 3 and tier 2. The smaller nations that have started putting together professional sides are threats to make a World Cup.
 

Bruce_ma gooshvili

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Overall not too many cross Tier fixtures this mid-year, and a very mixed bag that is difficult to decipher due to some experimental squad selections.

Highlights were:

- Georgia beating Italy (1st victory over a Tier1 ever and with a Georgian coach)
- Japan almost beating France (leading after 70mins, conceded an incredibly soft try then knocked on at the death when touching down to reclaim the victory.)
- Portugal almost beating Italy

Lowlights were:

- Italy hammering Romania
- Scotland hammering Chile
- Australia A beating Fiji
- Argentina A beating Georgia and Portugal
- no real initial signs of SR exposure translating into improved PI performance (very early days, we'll know better in the EOYTs)

I'd summarise it as being less predictable than ten years ago, but with a long way to go. I do get the sense if the various pro/semi pro leagues that have sprung up in the past 5 years can become financially stable (highly debatable) it is hard to see how the gap can fail to close significantly. The fact that a lot of Tier2s and 3s actually play some attractive rugby is also a big deal in terms of the sport becoming commercially viable in developing territories.

A big hurdle is that (in my opinion) the continental international tournaments are all either taking a step backwards (REC expanding prematurely to mix pro teams with amateurs, Africa cup curtailed and played in Europe) or have disappeared (Americas not yet replaced by a Sudamerica tournament and/or Pacific tournament). Without an annual, meaningful and competitive continental tournament I've no idea how administrators in these regions intend to engage fans. Flying Tier2s and 3s across the world in international windows to play each other in friendlies just isn't going to build any public interest. Attendances in Romania, Canada, Uruguay and even Japan have been pretty disappointing this past month.
 

die_mole

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Despite Covid throwing a wrench in things rugby is looking pretty good. The World Cup qualifiers are much more competitive this time around with more countries with realistic chances of making it than ever before.

The game has the highest amount of dedicated professionals at any point of history which I think has contributed to the game becoming more and more attractive. I think a big issue with attendance is that the matches seem to be random. If counties could get a better sense of when they tour and when they host they could do a better job of setting up relationships with fans and local clubs. Give them a year to work on attendance, not 3 months.
 
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