World Rugby was delighted to announce that newly-appointed England head coach Eddie Jones was taking time out of his busy schedule to join participants at a special workshop in Los Angeles on the 23rd – 24th November for Tier Two rugby nations.
The workshop was in effect a Rugby World Cup debrief. Over the course of the two days we’ll be pouring over a myriad of statistics to see which teams have improved their performance from tournament to tournament in key areas of the game, while also examining what has and hasn’t worked from a player release, scheduling and a team preparation and assembly time point of view.
Everyone will be working towards the same goal – making tier two nations even more competitive so that the gap between themselves and the established elite continues to narrow. I’m sure the head coaches and high performance managers in attendance will be fascinated to hear Eddie’s views on how the gains made at RWC 2015 can be maximised and the secrets behind the Brave Blossoms’ success.
Just over nine weeks have passed since Japan claimed an historic 34-32 victory over South Africa in Brighton – a result that not only lit the touch paper for the tournament to soar to new heights but one that put Asian rugby as a whole firmly on the map.
Staff at the tier two nations have told me personally that Japan’s win gave them the confidence and belief that anything was possible and as a result they went out to play a brand of attacking rugby rather than just dig deep in the hope of keeping the score down, which had arguably been the case in the past.
With 30 per cent more tries being scored and fewer points conceded in match-ups with tier one nations, it was the most successful as well as the most enjoyable tournament to date from a tier two perspective. Who’d have thought Georgia and Namibia would have got closer to the All Blacks than France!
Our hope was to have one tier two nation qualifying for the knockout stages, and with three wins from four Japan would have achieved that goal in any other tournament. Undeterred, the bar remains high – higher in fact, as our stretch target for 2019 is to have two tier two quarter-finalists and more shock results along the way. After all, the unpredictability of outcome is what draws people in and makes for great sporting theatre.
The challenge for us is to try and assist the tier two unions as best we can in this process. Now in its eighth year, the World Rugby tier two funding programme is crucial to this.
We part-funded 106 of the management positions between the 10 tier two unions at Rugby World Cup 2015. Some of those positions were permanent and some, like Steve Borthwick and Marc Dal Maso at Japan, were paid for through the additional funding – around £400,000 per union – that each tier two union competing at the Rugby World Cup received this year. This comes on top of the £10 million a year we spend across 14 countries on tournaments and direct grants.
We also set £1 million aside for central projects. For example, we insured all 10 tier two union players during the 35-day release period and the Rugby World Cup itself. We had more money available this time around and it allowed us to be more flexible and it took a lot of stress off the unions to find extra money in a World Cup year when the preparation time is longer and therefore costlier.
While the annual test match and tournament programme is used as a benchmark to monitor the investment programme’s ongoing progress, it is at the end of the four-year cycle, after every Rugby World Cup, when you have to sit back and ask yourself did the millions of pounds being pumped into tier two rugby via the investment programme make a real difference on the field of play. I’m very pleased to say that it did.
The tier two nations have significantly more resources to spend on their elite programmes than they did before 2007, when the investment programme kicked in, and they’re also playing more tests against tier one nations than ever before. This has clearly been a contributory factor to the levelling of the playing field that we witnessed at RWC 2015. In the Rugby World Cup cycle between 2007 and 2011 there were 25 tier one v tier two fixtures and that went up to 35 between 2011 and 2015.
There are obvious constraints to growing this number further – but that’s our hope. USA are bringing big fixtures into their market and Ireland and Scotland are scheduled to tour Georgia and Japan. Generally-speaking, we have to be clever in the way we look at the competition programme – and that’s going to be another area up for debate in LA. We can’t just sit back and arrange these things unilaterally from our head office, it has to be done with the consent of the unions.
The June schedule is confirmed up until 2018 so it’s the November programme that we’ll be finalising. We should be in a position to sign that off by the end of December.
This week’s workshop will also give the tier two nations a platform to present to us the plans they are putting in place ahead of the next Rugby World Cup, which, before you know it, will be on us like a flash. From December to February this will be formalised into a performance case system whereby the unions make a case for continued funding. In that process some unions may get more, some less; it is contestable funding.
That puts a bit of pressure on the unions to show to us what funds they are going to generate themselves – whether that be sponsorship, government funding or National Olympic Committee funding or whatever.
In the past we gave out direct grants to unions but we find performance funding much more effective. As a governing body we are more integrated with the unions in what they do. They have to put in quarterly reports – financial and operational – and we have a lot more consultants visiting them on the ground to check what is happening and providing support and advice where appropriate. We will reward those unions that are performing well.
I am hoping that a number of innovative ideas that will help shape our investment strategy over the next four years will come to light in LA.
It is probable that we will be working with the same pot of money so we need to make sure that every penny of that £10 million is put into a programme that best serves the needs of tier two nations with a view to them gaining even more ground in 2019.