Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 25 November 2014

World Cup boost for smaller nations

England Rugby 2015 unveiled the 13 venues that will stage the 48 World Cup matches on Thursday
England Rugby 2015 unveiled the 13 venues that will stage the 48 World Cup matches on Thursday

The 2015 Rugby World Cup will be contested on a level playing field after organisers agreed they could "no longer tolerate" the unfair fixture schedules which undermined recent tournaments.

The commercial requirement for the major nations like England and New Zealand to play on weekends has previously led to the smaller nations having to play in midweek with little rest time. In 2003, Italy's genuine quarter-final ambitions were ravaged by the fact they had to play four games in 14 days and Samoa suffered similarly at New Zealand 2011.

After Samoa had lost 17-10 to a Wales side who had enjoyed three more days' rest between matches, the outspoken centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapola raged that his country were being treated like slaves. "The message is that 2011 was the last time we could tolerate tier two nations having to face an unfair schedule," said John O'Neill, a director of Rugby World Cup Ltd.

The unfair practice has been largely rectified for the 2015 tournament, with New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, France, Scotland and Wales all pressed into midweek action.

International Rugby Board chief executive Brett Gosper said: "The rest days are equal for tier one teams as tier two teams. There is a very balanced rest day programme.

"There have been issues in the past where we have seen performances fall off at the back end of the pool stages for tier two teams because they don't have the depth and haven't had the rest days."

O'Neill insisted the 2015 fixture schedule should be the blueprint for all future tournaments, even in 2019 when the World Cup heads to Japan. The Asian time zone will bring increased commercial pressures from the lucrative European television market, which will want the leading nations to play at weekends.

"The equity and fairness of this draw should be embedded in all future tournaments," O'Neill said. "There are 20 teams in this competition and the only team with home-ground advantage is the hosts. After that, every other team has to be on a level playing field in terms of facilities, training and rest etc.

"Australia has a three-day break, for example. That's fine. You've got to live with it - that's why you bring 30 players. You can't ignore the commercial realities, but what we have here is a proper mix of commercial outcomes and fairness to all teams.

"This is a template which should endure for all future tournaments. There has been an adjustment so that tier two nations have the same treatment as the tier one teams."

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