I know this may be a little premature, we still have a few days till this thrilling competition comes to a close but I have to wonder about what we will see in four years time. I think there are big decisions to be made between now and then.
Twenty countries took part this year in the world cup and there was a visible gap between what are seen as the super powers (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, France and England) and the minnows (Namibia, Georgia, Portugal, Japan). Scorelines such as 91-3 to Australia against Japan and 108-13 for New Zealand against Portugal seem to bear testament to the fact that there is huge imbalance.
To combat this there have been a few ideas bandied about, the one with the most weight seems to suggest cutting the world cup to 16 teams and having the minnows battle it out in a pre-world cup tournament for a place in the actual world cup. I think this is wrong for numerous reasons.
The success of Fiji and Argentina this year in reaching the latter stages of the tournament shows that teams who do not compete on a regular basis (or, in some cases are still amateur) can still give the “big boys” headaches. The same can be said for Georgia who nearly turned us over. Everybody deserves a run at it and on the day can cause upsets.
Establishing an elite group and a second tier group goes against the ethos behind rugby union in the first place. Indeed the theme tune to the IRB’s showcase tournament states “The world in union, the world as one”. Surely, you can’t go and then decide that some teams have the right to enter the world cup whereas others have to go through the “back door”?
The issue of safety has also been brought up. The worry was that the well drilled and conditioned forward packs of the professional countries would decimate the minnows and risk serious injury. I can understand this concern and for the most part the professional countries did have the upperhand when it can to scrum and line out. But, to my knowledge at least, the amateurs came away without serious injury and in some cases gave the professional teams a good going over.
What needs to happen is these “smaller” teams must be given more competition, not less. Argentina should be put in the Tri-Nations and allowed to improve. They could easily join the elite, they’re fourth in the world at the moment without an annual competition! The world cup is an unpredictable affair and the success of the lesser known teams gives everyone something to cheer about. There’s nothing like getting behind the under-dog. Take that away from the world cup and all you’re left with is a predictable procession to the final.