Bye Bye Tier Two Nations – it’s been fun
So the group stages of RWC 2011 are over and the Tier Two nations have packed their bags and gone home. Did we learn anything about the development of Tier Two rugby from watching the first round of matches? While a few pundits said how well the teams played and how the ‘gap is narrowing’, a lot of the teams themselves felt unhappy with the way they were treated.
Samoa is a case in point. Compared to its opponents Samoa had shorter recovery periods between matches, something many of their players felt gave the Tier One teams an unfair advantage. Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu has become a bit of an unofficial spokesman on this subject – not only for the Samoan team but all Tier Two nations. His outbursts on Twitter and his interviews have made him a cause célêbre for those (me included) who sympathise with him.
One of his gripes is the rest period the Tier Two nations had between matches. He’s asking why Samoa got such short gaps between games. Well, why did they? And why did Namibia have to play all its pool games in just 17 days? Can someone from the IRB answer that? Other Tier Two teams have similar complaints.
While equating the treatment of Tier Two countries with the Holocaust, is over the top, the core of Fuimaono-Sapolu’s argument is valid and should be taken seriously. There is still a huge gulf between the rich, well-healed rugby nations and the minnows, who feed off scraps from the IRB. To be fair, the IRB has been investing money in developing the game at the lower levels, but I believe it’s not nearly enough. While the England rugby team travelled to New Zealand in comfort, all expenses paid (and made complete arses of themselves, as spoilt rich boys tend to do), the Samoans had to buy their own tickets.
It may not be an IRB ‘conspiracy’, but it sure looks like favouritism towards the teams who ‘deserve’ to be in the quarter finals. ALL teams deserve to be there, if they are good enough. I believe Samoa is as good as Argentina – probably better – but unless there is a level playing field where all teams are given the same rest time and the same opportunities to perform to their very best, countries like Samoa will always come off second best. And that will be a tragedy for global rugby development. Come on IRB, put a bit more effort into cultivating the ‘I’ in your initials!