Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Years’ 2007: Looking ahead to the World Cup

January 1, 2007

"There's too much focus on the World Cup, it's an unhealthy obsession."

Rugby World Cup

Happy New Year! 2007 is World Cup year. We are still nine months from kick-off, but it'll be the big story for the next nine months, so let's roll.

The above comment from former rugby exec David Moffett has caused a little stir the past couple weeks.

Phil Gifford responds:

The World Cup may be unstoppable but Moffett has a point

Sunday Star Times
17 December 2006

David Moffett knows how to stir up a debate. His suggestion the Rugby World Cup should be scrapped altogether may have been so outrageous that many will be unlikely to take the other ideas he has about the cup seriously, which is a pity.

As a former New Zealand Rugby Union, Welsh Rugby Union and National Rugby League CEO Moffett knows about world footy.

Which means he must surely know that suggesting the world cup was so damaging to the game it should be replaced was an idea that would win headlines, but never fly.

It's a bit like saying we should ban cars because they're screwing up the environment, or we should refuse to screen any more castaway desert island shows because they're crap television.

The theory may be right, but the horse has left the stable, bolted down the road and was last seen headed for Trentham.

There's too much money from television, sponsors and spectators for the IRB to step back and decide to return to the days of long tours, or go forward to a once-a-year mini-tournament.

As someone who was around when the first world cup was being organised, it's easy to confirm that the cup has grown organically.

The only people less enthusiastic than British officials about the 1987 tournament were potential sponsors. European corporates were notably thin on the ground.

So to this day the letters KDD (the Japanese telecommunications company Kokusai Denshin Denwa) is a dynamite trivia answer to the question, "Who sponsored the first Rugby World Cup?"

No Armani-clad marketers launched that cup, but a mixture of amateur officials from Australia and New Zealand.

Then the players, who rolled out some stunning footy, and the New Zealand public, 19,000 of whom rolled up to the Showgrounds in Palmerston North to see Wales play Tonga, made the first tournament a rollicking success, and suddenly the world cup was on fire.

Fans have since spoken with their feet, their credit cards and their TV remotes. The world cup is the biggest thing in the game because the majority of people love it or, at least, are fascinated by it.

But what hopefully won't be buried and forgotten in what feels like over-reaching on Moffett's part is that the world cup does need rejigging.

Moffett makes an entirely valid point that so much is now thrown at the world cup that tests in non-cup years are often devalued.

A good start would be to change the world cup seeding system, which is pathetic. Teams are judged on how they finished at the last cup.

So the years between cups, of building, or sliding back, go out the window.

You could bet that, under a more up-to-date seeding system, we would never see, for example, an England C side touring here. Sending a full-strength would be the best way of making damn sure they didn't end in a pool with the All Blacks or Australia.

The world cup is such a massive money spinner that maybe, nearer to the actual tournament, the IRB could offer cold cash to encourage motivated performances in lead-up tests.

Moffett suggested the cup was near death because it was predictable, in that only one of five teams could realistically hope to win. Well, the last five soccer World Cup finals have involved just five teams, exactly the same number as have played in the rugby finals.

So the group of likely cup winners in both sports may be small, but don't try to tell soccer fans that makes the football cup boring, or the All Blacks of 1991, 1995, 1999 or 2003 that the rugby results were forgone conclusions.

Rugby World Cup needs sharpening. It doesn't need dumping.


All good points Phil. Personally, I would like to see the RWC tournament format clawed back to 16 teams. Some of these repechage teams are going to get slaughtered, and I'm not sure that's helpful for the global game or the credibility of the tournament. But if we can look past these inevitable blowouts, there promises to be some great intrigue going into the match-ups. We'll get to that down the road, but in the meantime, get out your new calendars, grab a red pen and start circling!


Pool A
South Africa
Repechage 2

Pool B

Pool C
New Zealand
Repechage 1

Pool D


7 September:
France v Argentina, Stade de France, St Denis, Pool D

8 September
England v USA, Lens, Pool A
Australia v Japan, Lyon, Pool B
New Zealand v Italy, Marseille, Pool C

9 September:
Ireland v Namibia, Bordeaux, Pool D
Wales v Canada, Nantes, Pool B
South Africa v Samoa, Parc des Princes, Paris, Pool A
Scotland v Repechage 1, St Etienne, Pool C

11 September:
Argentina v Georgia, Lyon, Pool D

12 September:
Italy v Romania, Marseille, Pool C
USA v Repechage 2, Montpellier, Pool A
Japan v Fiji, Toulouse, Pool B

14 September:
England v South Africa, Stade de France, Pool A

15 September:
Ireland v Georgia, Bordeaux, Pool D
Wales v Australia, Cardiff, Pool B
New Zealand v Repechage 1, Lyon, Pool C

16 September:
Fiji v Canada, Cardiff, Pool B
Samoa v Repechage 2, Montpellier, Pool A
France v Namibia, Toulouse, Pool D

18 September:
Scotland v Romania, Edinburgh, Pool C

19 September:
Italy v Repechage 1, Parc des Princes, Pool C

20 September:
Wales v Japan, Cardiff, Pool B

21 September:
France v Ireland, Stade de France, Pool D

22 September:
South Africa v Repechage 2, Lens, Pool A
Argentina v Namibia, Marseille, Pool D
England v Samoa, Nantes, Pool A

23 September:
Scotland v New Zealand, Edinburgh, Pool C
Australia v Fiji, Montpellier, Pool B

25 September:
Canada v Japan, Bordeaux, Pool B
Romania v Repechage 1, Toulouse, Pool C

26 September:
Georgia v Namibia, Lens, Pool D
Samoa v USA, St Etienne, Pool A

28 September:
England v Repechage 2, Parc des Princes, Pool A

29 September:
Australia v Canada, Bordeaux, Pool B
Wales v Fiji, Nantes, Pool B
Scotland v Italy, St Etienne, Pool C
New Zealand v Romania, Toulouse, Pool C

30 September:
France v Georgia, Marseille, Pool D
South Africa v USA, Montpellier, Pool A
Ireland v Argentina, Parc des Princes, Pool D

6 October:
QF1: W Pool B v RU Pool A, Marseille
QF2: W Pool C v RU Pool D, Cardiff

7 October:
QF3: W Pool A v RU Pool B, Marseille
QF4: W Pool D v RU Pool C, Stade de France

13 October:
SF1: W QF1 v W QF2, Stade de France

14 October:
SF2: W QF3 v W QF4, Stade de France

19 October:
3rd place play-off, Parc des Princes

20 October:
Final, Stade de France

*Fixtures, dates and times are subject to late change

Right now, the All Blacks are prohibitive favourites to win the RWC, which doesn't sit too easily with many nervous kiwis. BartMan at the Silver Fern looks ahead to what New Zealand can expect.

[UPDATE:] Ex-England international Paul Ackford peers into his crystal ball and looks worried:

Tears for second-tier nations

By Paul Ackford
The Telegraph

Match 34 of the Rugby World Cup is the one I'm looking forward to. That's the game between New Zealand and Romania in Toulouse on Sept 29. It's nothing to do with the result. That's in the bag already. New Zealand's third string would see off Romania, who are ranked 15th in the world.

The interest in the match will lie in the margin of victory because it will indicate whether the World Cup warrants its status as the third-biggest sporting event on the planet behind the Olympics and its football equivalent, and whether the authorities have done anything to address the disastrous gulf between the haves and the havenots.


That's the problem with the Rugby World Cup. It's a non-event until you get to the quarter-finals and then they are effectively re-runs of the matches you see every year when the southern hemisphere tours France, Britain and Ireland.

In Australia in 2003 everyone predicted that the quarter-finals would be contested between the old Five Nations countries and the big three from the Tri-Nations. They were.


World Cups need to have more rigour than that. They are the showcase of the sport, a competition which should be just that right across the board from the first game to the final and history tells us that Rugby World Cups are anything but.


It's fine for New Zealand to be exceptional. That's not the issue. Sports needs their trend-setters and standard bearers. What isn't acceptable is the inability of the vast majority of rugby-playing countries across the world to have the slightest hope of challenging the top teams.

Bear that in mind when you watch the World Cup final on Oct 20 at the Stade de France. No doubt that will be a shining example of dramatic brutality, an occasion fit to stand comparison with totemic sporting high points across the globe.

But that final will be match number 48 of France 2007 and for more than half the games leading up to that climax there will be no drama, no chance of an upset, and no point in watching them, quite frankly, if you require an edge to your rugby.


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