/ 13 May 2016

New guard to shake things up in rugby

New Guard To Shake Things Up In Rugby

Ordinarily, the machinations of World Rugby would be politely ignored in the southern hemisphere. The game’s governing body, which was known as the International Rugby Board until last year’s name change, has tended to look after the game up north, first and foremost. As long as the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup were raking in the money, the game in the south was largely ignored.

But this week World Rugby elected its first new chairperson in eight years. Bill Beaumont (64) takes over from Bernard Lapasset, who did not seek re-election. Lapasset’s deputy, Oregan Hoskins, also stepped down, so the new vice-chair, Gus Pichot, becomes the first Argentinean to hold major office in the world game.

Hoskins’s legacy will be World Rugby’s new governance model, which gives power to all member unions that can achieve its good governance criteria. Essentially, it means that the likes of Romania and the USA have a say in the future development of the game, instead of being dictated to by the traditional powers.

Hoskins, of course, has been the president of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) for the past decade. The past year has taken its toll on Hoskins, however, and the end may be in sight for his involvement with Saru as well. The political fallout around the issue of the Kings participating in Super Rugby, together with tough new transformation rules, may be the straws that break the camel’s back.

There are also mutterings in the corridors of power about the direction Super Rugby has taken with its expansion to 18 teams. Officials from South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian Rugby (Sanzaar) have privately concurred that the new model does not work, but are contractually bound to it for two seasons.

All this means that, by the time Beaumont has been in charge at World Rugby for a year, he could be presiding over a new and far more sincere attempt to create a global season.

Until now the sticking point has always been the Six Nations, whose fixtures have been played in February and March for more than a century. Yet such is the rude health of the game globally, with World Rugby claiming a player base of 7.73-million, that those dates are surely no longer insurmountable. And if February and March were up for grabs and the Super 18 wasn’t in the way, suddenly there is a chance to shake up the professional game.

The benefits for the South African game have been well aired. The time zone factors that dog east-west fixtures disappear when the player movement is south-north. Players who leave these shores lured by salaries paid in pounds and euros would remain in the system if a competition existed that pitted South African provincial teams against European club sides.

Imagine the Stormers playing Bath, with Francois Louw leading the English club against his old franchise. It would be difficult, then, for anyone to suggest that Louw was out of sight, out of mind for the national selectors. Imagine further, French and British clubs visiting our shores for a sustained period. Imagine the travelling support that would come with them as people escaping the northern winter exploited the spending power of their currencies against the rand. The possibilities are endless.

Ironically, Beaumont’s biggest problem would be with New Zealand, world champions at the past two tournaments. That country’s isolation in a time zone unpopular with broadcasters would be its death knell in a genuinely global season were it not for the fact that its rugby sides are the best in the world. Some way would have to be found to accommodate them. Answers on a postcard, please.

As we move towards the June international window (another anomaly that would disappear in a global season), the New Zealand sides are dominant in Super Rugby. If the quarterfinals were to be played this week instead of in July, of the five Kiwi franchises only the Blues would miss out.

Yet such are the compromises agreed to by Sanzaar to make the competition work that only the Crusaders would have a home fixture. Not only that, but the three sides forced to travel would all have earned more log points than their opponents.