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Mike Blair: 'I took a lot on my shoulders at Edinburgh but I don't regret it'

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It's time for rugby to act – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Andres Vilaseca of Uruguay is embraced by a member of the crowd after defeat to Italy during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Italy and Uruguay at Stade de Nice on September 20, 2023 in Nice, France. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The leading nations in world rugby have to end the self-interest and short-termism that has blighted the game and come together to better support so-called Tier 2 nations and the time is now.


Every four years we pay lip service to the fact the likes of Romania, Namibia, the Pacific Island nations and others are fighting an uphill battle before the issue fades into the background again and action is needed straight away for the good of the sport.

Samoa and Namibia, for example, played just 11 official Tests between the 2019 and 2023 World Cups. How is anyone supposed to improve when they’re playing three matches a year, especially when those are against Madagascar or Burkina Faso or even against the other nations of a similar standard at this tournament.

They need to be given the opportunity to play the more established nations far more often as well as playing more regular rugby in general and being supported financially and with regard to the infrastructure that can help them to compete further down the line.

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Namibia Coetzee ban verdict rugby” width=”1024″ height=”576″ /> (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The scheduling has improved at this tournament, although we have seen Namibia play four games in 18 days, but we’ve seen some complete hammerings that are not a good look for the sport and lay bare the fact that far more needs to be done.

Namibia shipped 255 points in their four games and Romania are on 242 and counting so are surely going to beat that but Italy are a so-called Tier 1 nation and conceded 96 points against the All Blacks so it isn’t a reason to keep them away from the big boys.


We know a new biennial competition is incoming in 2026 involving the Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides plus a couple of others, with a second tier version underneath it and promotion and relegation supposedly set to be a part of it eventually.

That is three years away though and doesn’t go far enough. I understand the difficulties of scheduling but rugby needs to act far faster. Japan are a prime example of how momentum can be lost as they shocked the world in 2015, beat Ireland and Scotland at a home World Cup in 2019 but have faded badly since.

At least they have played the likes of France, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Australia and Scotland since the last major tournament but they still aren’t involved in one of the top annual tournaments and 17 Tests between World Cups for them isn’t enough.

For comparison, the likes of England play around 40 Tests in a four-year period. There should be more onus on the top nations in world rugby to help less established nations even if it isn’t financially beneficial for them or the sport will shrink rather than grow in the long run.


Fiji have beaten Australia for the first time in 69 years at this tournament, are everyone’s second team and have benefitted from some changes made in recent years with a team in Super Rugby and more structure to their game as a result.

Fiji Rugby Championship
Players of Fiji as they celebrate after defeating Australia during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on September 17, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Pauline Ballet – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

The big question on everyone’s lips is whether they’re going to be admitted into The Rugby Championship, though, and the answer is they should be in there already but they probably don’t bring enough to the table financially.

A promotion/relegation play-off should be brought into the Six Nations but The Rugby Championship just has no excuse not to expand, especially with the Wallabies struggling badly now and South Africa with their eyes on the northern hemisphere.

There are problems everywhere and the sad news of Jersey’s demise this week, adding to the three Premiership clubs that have gone bust, isn’t completely unconnected from this issue at all.

If rugby truly wants to grow and improve as a sport, then there has to be a more long-term vision and somehow the top nations have to be encouraged to do more rather than just feathering their own nest.

It’s great that once we get to the knockout stages of this World Cup we’ll be able to talk about Ireland, France, South Africa and New Zealand as genuine contenders to win it and, of course, you can’t write off the likes of England and Wales as well but that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Ardie Savea of New Zealand is tackled by Michele Lamaro and Luca Morisi of Italy during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Italy at Parc Olympique on September 29, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The Rugby League World Cup has been pushed back 12 months, reduced in scale and there are only ever three teams that can win it anyway. That could very easily happen in rugby union as well if the right decisions aren’t made today.

An expansion to 24 teams is expected ahead of the next Rugby World Cup but the devil will be in the detail when it comes to whether that is likely to be an improvement and it’s really what happens between tournaments that is far more important.

Aligning the global calendar is still massively pivotal to all this but is an age old debate that will run and run but the Six Nations countries and particularly SANZAAR have to be made to see the bigger picture rather than running a closed shop and acting in self-interest.

Scotland are due to tour the Pacific Islands next year, which is something Tier 1 nations have barely done at all in recent decades, but more has to be done and fast.

You can’t hide from the fact that we’ve seen some massive margins of defeat at this tournament and the aim should obviously be to get away from that rather than return to teams shipping well over 100 points as wasn’t abnormal in early World Cups.

Work has to be done with these countries between tournaments for that to be the case but we have seen some green shoots as well with Portugal impressing, Chile taking part for the first time and Fiji looking like making it through to the knockout stages.

TOULOUSE, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 23: Thibault de Freitas of Portugal applauds the fans after the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Georgia and Portugal at Stadium de Toulouse on September 23, 2023 in Toulouse, France. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Financially it’s a struggle for everyone in rugby at the moment, and it isn’t getting any easier with a lot of debt around and money more expensive to borrow now, but now isn’t the time to think small. We have to think eight, 12 or more years down the line when we’re making decisions now.

Progress has been made in some areas, it’s important to recognise that, but more nations have to play more competitive rugby between World Cups and have the opportunity to mix it with the big boys not on the biggest stage as well.

That shouldn’t be a massive problem to overcome but self-interest and short-termism from the few have meant it is still a big issue. Let’s hope everyone can collaborate and think about the good of the game moving forward and that we aren’t talking about exactly the same thing in four years’ time.



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