World Rugby needed some Agustin, and by Jove it’s got it
The most influential man in the game, the global body’s vice chairman has got big plans for a new World League
The winds of change look set to reshape the rugby world as we know it. In an attempt to make the sport more relevant, World Rugby, the game’s governing body, wants to pit the top sides in an annual tournament that will alternate between the hemispheres.
They’ve figured the Rugby World Cup only comes around every four years, while the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship operate in silos either side of the equator. Why not create a so called World League in which they assemble the main protagonists, while giving two other teams the opportunity to join the top table.
It will also give World Rugby the means to generate funds with which to develop the game in marginalised areas.
It is the kind of initiative that needs to be driven by a Robin Hood-like character and in World Rugby’s energetic young vice chairman, Agustin Pichot, they have just the man. Pichot has proved to be as much a live wire in the boardroom as he was in the Los Pumas No 9 jumper. He has established himself as the most influential person in the game and it is not hard to see why as he brings vibrancy and a fresh face to an old boys’ club once famously referred to as 57 Old Farts.
If Pichot drives this process with the fervour he is known to possess, the World League will almost certainly come to fruition.
The new competition will challenge the status quo and the June and November Test windows will fall away. No more end of year tours, and no need to host punch-drunk European opposition at the end of their season in June.
What the suits at SA Rugby need to ask themselves is whether a rethink of their priorities is required. They tend to contract staff assigned to the Springboks between World Cups but they’ll also need to establish how the new tournament will affect their rivalry with the All Blacks.
The Springboks’ win in Wellington last month reinvigorated a rivalry that was fast losing its right to exist. From the moment Nigel Owens blew the final whistle in Wellington, for locals, this Saturday’s Test at Loftus has become the most anticipated rugby match in years.
The Rugby Championship may no longer be at stake, but it matters little. The champion All Blacks are in town and South Africans have whipped themselves into frenzy.
The energy and sense of anticipation ahead of the clash is not the product of gimmickry, or clever marketing. It is the result of an enduring rivalry that first sprang from the mud in 1928.
Rugby needs to spread its wings and champion greater competitiveness at its apex, but this week will prove that nothing beats the virtues of a traditional old rivalry.