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The collapse of rugby globally since the pandemic

Tooting Carmen

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The shocking extent of how much the global game shrunk after the pandemic and Bill Beaumont's World Rugby leadership

These following figures are sourced from RugbyArchive.net and whilst preciseness of them might be slightly off here or there the broad overall pattern is clear: the global game has shrunk to a shocking degree over the past four year (2020-2023) cycle.

Of the 112 full member Unions listed in the World Rankings and looking at the number of World Ranking relevant test matches (so not counting friendlies vs non-test opponents) ......

  • Only 25 (22%) of the 112 teams played more than 15 tests over the full 4 year cycle (the five non-RWC nations were Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, USA, & Canada) and only 34 (30%) played more than 10.
  • 44 of the 112 teams (39%) played 2 or fewer tests over the entire four year cycle. 24 of those teams (21%) were totally inactive and did not play a single test.
  • In this calendar year of 2023: 43 (38%) of 112 teams played 0 tests. 16 of the top 52 (or 50% of top 32 ranked teams not at RWC) played between 0-2 tests this year.
  • Asia has 21 teams in the World Rankings and of them 19 played no more than 4 tests over the entire 4 year cycle. Only one (Japan) reached double figures. 6 of the top 13 ranked Asian teams remained entirely inactive over the four years.
  • North America has 11 teams in the World Rankings and only USA and Canada played more than 2 tests over the 4 years. The other 9 teams played a combined total of 6 tests between them.
  • South America has 9 teams in the World Rankings. 3 reached the RWC. Among the other 6, Brazil, Colombia, & Paraguay played just 14 tests between them in 2022 and 2023, whilst Peru, Venezuela, & Costa Rica all have been inactive since 2018.
  • Africa has 21 teams in the World Rankings. 13 of those played 0 tests in 2023. This includes Zimbabwe and Algeria who placed 3rd and 4th at last year's African RWC qualifiers, whilst rugby mad Madagascar played just two tests over four years and none since 2021. Rugby in North Africa and West Africa now appears all but dead.
  • Oceania has 6 smaller teams in the rankings outside the 5 who compete at RWCs and between them they played 6 tests over the entire 4 year cycle. The highest ranked Oceanian nation outside the RWC is the Cook Islands whose only game of the entire 4 year cycle was a RWC qualifier vs Tonga.
  • Of the 112 nations in the World Rankings as of this year 48 have been active at their most recent regional age grade competitions (an active junior program is basically a litmus test for whether a nation has any remotely serious hope of developing). In the period spanning 2014-2019 33 different Unions played their last age grade games and not rejoined competition since.

Obviously this can't all be put down to World Rugby as the pandemic was a large factor here wiping out most of 2020 and in some cases 2021 and creating difficulties all round. However they should not get totally off the hook for the way the global sport has been allowed to deteriorate so badly.

The level of bullshit in World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont's media statements is frequently off the charts. In 2020 in announcing a Covid relief fund he stated:
"Global sport is facing a crisis never seen before and at this most challenging time we are taking unprecedented action as a sport united to support global rugby, its unions, competitions and players through the enormous challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet in reality if he was being more honest he would have said "we have taking unprecedented action united to support Tier 1 rugby, its unions, competitions and players".

The support was only for the few, not the many, as those outside the World Cup participants in particular got basically abandoned.

Now you can make the case perhaps that restarting competitions for microstates like the Cook Islands was correctly not a priority (however harsh that may sound). However in other cases World Rugby has allowed what was promising progress in the countries with more significant populations like Brazil, Colombia, Mexico to get burnt to the ground. Or the leading non-RWC teams in Asia like South Korea or Africa like Zimbabwe still left in terrible states of inactivity and lack of competition. These are all sides we would hope to be challengers to qualify for a 24 team RWC but progress has been made virtually impossible.

Also some of this, notably the haemorrhaging of the sport's international youth competitions, with now far fewer nations competing at age grade level started even before the pandemic (no side is ever progressing without youth teams unless they have a massive pool of imports).

The current level of inactivity among sides ranked 24 or below and the dire state of rugby in the entire massive continents of Africa and Asia behind their top team is making a mockery of World Rugby leaders supposed care and stewardship of the "global game". It is not good enough, and the blazers must be called out on it for it to improve.
 
Bill Beaumont was always going to be a bad choice to head up world rugby.

Even Super Rugby failed during his tenure.

Growth of the game globally will only come from regional competition

1. A good schools system which feeds
2. A country wide club system, supporting
3. Regional/divisional semi/fully pro teams which play each other (10 matches)
4. Compete in cross country regional competitions (10 matches) and
5. Have centrally contracted elite players who play 50% of their time in international competitions (10 test per year)

Each country has its own challenges but the above template is the proven model to producing better players.

Only France and England work off an elite club model, which has actually hindered them when you view their international performance v no of players.

It can't be that hard from Bill and his cronies to set up a 6 nations type tournament in America and Australasia with tiers and relegation/promotion

Based on rankings today surely the following is achievable within 2 years

1. Global Tier 1 - NZ, SA, Fra, Ire, Arg, Eng, Sco, Wal
2. America's Cup - Arg 2, Chile, Brazil, USA, Canada, Uruguay
3. Euro Cup - Ire 2, Eng 2, France 2, Italy, Wal 2, Scotland 2, Georgia, Portugal
4. Asia- Pacific Cup - NZ 2, Aus, Fiji, Sam, Ton, Jap

I would then have regional tiers below each of the above i.e - Euro west (Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy 2, Sweden) and Euro East (Georgia 2, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Poland)

Each Region would have a corresponding Regional/Provincial/Club competition each with divisions

Global - best team from Ire, Fra, Eng, NZ, SA, Aus, Sco, Wal - each with 5 ringers - played every 4 years

Regional -
Euro 1 - 4 from Fra, Eng, 3 from Ire, SA, 1 from Sco, Wal, Italy and defending champs
Euro 2a - 5 England, 1 Ire, 3 Wal, 1 Sco,
Euro 2b - 7 Fra, 1 Georgia, 1 Ita, 1 Rom
Euro 3a - 1 Ire, 1 Sco, 1 Wal, 1 Holland, 1 Belgium, 1 Germany, 1 Sweden
Euro 3b - 4 Italy, 2 Spain, 2 Portugal
Euro 3c - 2 Georgia, 2 Rom, 1 Ukraine, 1 Poland, 2 Russia,

Oceania - 4 NZ, 3 Oz, 1 Jap, 1 Fiji, 1 Tonga, 1 Sam and defending champs

America - 2 US, 2 Arg, 1 Canada, 1 Chile, 1 Brazil, 1 Uruguay

Africa - 4 SA, 2 Nam, 1 Zim, 1 Ken
 

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