Theo Deng avoids tackling the Chileans during England's 71-0 win over the South Americans – how rewarding the experience really was in Chile? Photo: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Yoan Valat
This Rugby World Cup has been a lot of fun, but some fans complained that the lull between matches slowed down the pace of the entertainment.
Such criticism is not unfounded: the week's break between matches gives the tournament a less stressful feel than, say, the World Cup or the non-stop entertainment offered by the Olympics or the Tour de France. This is an issue that World Rugby can do little about if it wants to be fair to second-tier teams who have previously had to play on unfairly short breaks, especially since they have fewer resources and fewer quality players in their squads.
You can't do anything about it in earlier rounds, but I return to a proposal I made almost eight years ago – a plate competition that is only open to lower-ranked unions, similar to the proven precedent of rugby sevens. This will have many benefits, which will be discussed below, and it is surprising that a sport that constantly competes for attention and commercial support has not explored this initiative properly.
This is a great honor and achievement for every second-tier team. who qualify for the World Championship. Their players will remember their games for the rest of their lives, but before we marvel at the experience, let's take a hard and realistic look at it.
Obviously, rugby is different from football in many ways, but one difference is crucial and it prevents many of the upsets when the reigning nations pull out the most improbable victories against higher-ranked teams. There is an essential element of strength in rugby, and teams that are inferior in strength very rarely win. You can't score an early lucky goal and protect your life for the rest of the game. If you get defeated from the front and lose the encounter, you won't win. When that happens, you're likely to be in for a rout, and we've seen a lot of that at this World Cup.
France beat Namibia 96-0 in one of several routs inflicted by major rugby nations during the World Cup. Photo: Getty Images/David Rogers
Nobody likes these no-contests, and players on both sides get little out of them other than being able to say they took part. This situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future given the imbalance in playing and financial resources, and World Rugby could give lower ranked nations a much better World Cup experience while improving the stilted rhythm of the competition.
If you had competition at the plate, the lower ranked teams would have something tangible to play for other than the dubious satisfaction of trying to lower the score when they play higher ranked teams. You'll have to ask them to take a short break before the quarter-finals, but at least it will be consistent across all qualifying teams and will ensure fans have something to watch midweek during the tournament. There will also be more (and more evenly matched) games for rugby fans and potential converts to watch, such as the stunning game between Georgia and Portugal.
Winning the plate competition will not only be a reality; a worthy achievement for lower level players; it would also help their unions develop the game domestically and could provide the added carrot of automatic qualification for the next World Cup.
Additionally, the opportunity to win a trophy in a global tournament will be attractive to potential sponsors. Games at smaller venues, where tickets could be purchased at a lower price, would have a good atmosphere, allow more parts of the host nation to participate in the World Cup, and provide more tickets to fans who cannot get tickets to other games.
In addition to these benefits, rugby could target a different audience for these games, attempting to focus on a larger female and family audience. If you want to be more radical, you can exclude these tickets from the hotel and corporate sectors.
There are good reasons for taking this step, even if it doesn't wash your face from a commercial point of view. Given RWC's growing stature, this way of growing the game would be a smarter investment than any other initiative you could name. Fortunately for World Rugby, there are several sponsorship experts I've spoken to who are confident that the plate competition will break even and, once organized, will prove to be a net contributor to the tournament's overall profits.
< p>So What is holding back such development? Well, as far as I'm concerned, it's nothing more than a lack of imagination and ambition in the corridors of power in rugby. Not only would this be the right thing to do for lower ranked countries, it would have all the benefits described and it is time for World Rugby to seriously consider it.