Dec 18, 2015
SINGAPORE — Japan’s Brave Blossoms were the pride of Asia at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, leading a thrilling campaign that saw them upsetting former world champions South Africa 34-32 in their first group match, before notching wins over Samoa and the United States.
No longer the whipping boys, the Japanese are now ranked 10th in the world — the only Asian team among the world’s top 20.
However, while the sport continues to grow in Asia, with Super Rugby and the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series making forays into the region ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, playing standards in the region are still lagging behind the world’s elite. Hong Kong are ranked 23rd, while South Korea and Sri Lanka are 25th and 38th respectively.
World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper believes it will take time for Asia to catch up. But he stressed that the world body is committed to investing and growing the sport here.
“China is an area we are looking very hard at, (we’re) talking to some potential commercial partners to help the game,” said Gosper in an interview with TODAY.
“We’re seeing the game grow in these markets. It takes a while to get a national team up to speed. We spend globally, we’ve invested around £330 million (S$697 million) from 2009 to 2016 in competitions, grassroots level across the world and Asia gets a very large part of that. We are investing and helping rugby in Asia develop other teams that can compete.”
For developing rugby nations such as Singapore (No 59), leveraging on the Sevens game can prove beneficial, particularly with the sport set to make its debut at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year.
Gosper said: “Sevens is a fantastically accessible sport for nations to become competitive very quickly. We’ve seen it spur the growth of the women’s game, and we’ve seen it develop the sport in countries where 15s never really ignited the sport.”
Following a hugely successful World Cup in England with records broken on and off the pitch — more than 2.47 million tickets were sold while the official fanzone recorded attendances of more than a million people — World Rugby is keen to keep its winning formula intact for the 2019 edition.
This year’s World Cup may have elicited grumbles of unfair schedules for the smaller teams — Japan, for example, had to play Scotland just four days after facing South Africa — but the World Cup’s format and schedule is set to stay, said Gosper.
“I don’t think it’s unfair on the smaller teams … We had a very equitable schedule. We work very hard to get rest days of the Tier 2 and Tier 1 to be at the same level.”
He also ruled out having a plate competition at the World Cup, citing increased costs and complexity for host nations.
“Are the benefits going to outweigh the burden on the host country? But coming out of the World Cup, we’ll review everything we’ve done to see if we can point to some changes,” he added.