Pacific Island Rugby, Rugby, Rugby History, Rugby World Cup, Travel, Uncategorized

Where did the Islanders go?

Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa have historically been known for their brute like physicality and their dazzling skills. Players from the Pacific Islands have become high valued commodities in some of the most renowned rugby clubs in the world. This might be the reason that these nations are struggling to pull things together though. On 7 September 2019 the All Blacks demolished Tonga 92-7, which left the rugby world frustrated. Tonga which has such a wealth of talent just haven’t been able to pull it together. However, you look at it though should we sit here and blame Tonga or should we look at the current world rugby season set up and structure which has given Tonga very little time to prepare for their Rugby World Cup campaign.

This documentary gives a small insight into the reasons that Pacific Island Rugby struggles with players being all over the world.
Video published by Pacific Rugby Players Welfare on YouTube

World Rugby Season?

What is a global rugby season? This is the idea that all teams in the world will play on the same schedule, which will allow all teams the same amount of preparation time. This does not happen however due to a split between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, who play on different schedules. All Blacks stalwart coach Steven Hansen said in the Tonga vs NZL post match press conference, “The problem that we’ve got is a calendar that doesn’t allow you to do that,” referring to the situation. Hansen offered a solution to the problem saying, “We have these wonderful ideas about growing the game but we don’t have an organisation at the top that wants to be strong enough to say ‘righto – this is what we’re doing, we’re going to have a global season.” Is it now time for World Rugby to reshuffle the playing cards and introduce a global system?

This video is a discussion about what needs to happen for rugby to develop better throughout the world.
Video publish by The 1014 Rugby on YouTube

What good will a global season do?

This global rugby season Hansen is referring to would give these Pacific Island teams more time to prepare. The results of this would lead to more competitive test match rugby and also allow for more growth outside of the top tier. Hansen puts the problem the Pacific Island nations face in perspective saying, “It’s really difficult [for me] when your players play for five different franchises in New Zealand“, Hansen then went on to say, “So I can only imagine how difficult it would be when your players are playing all over the world and you’re bringing them back and you don’t have much time to prepare them.” Hansen is referring to the fact that most of the best Pacific Island players play in Europe due to the fact that there is more money in the game over there. Due to this factor, a priority is often given to the clubs, and players neglect their nations or are withheld from certain international competitions.

Video showing top 10 Pacific Island players
Video published on YouTube by George Vaka’uta

With all the talent that exists in the Pacific Islands hopefully soon in the near future there will be systems put in place that will allow for these great and fierce rugby nations to rise and really be counted on the big stage of world rugby. From an outsider looking in it looks to me as though the organisations need to get it right in terms of trying to put structures in place. Systems that give nations more power to dictate to clubs about whether players can play for their nations or not. It would be great to see these great nations playing more on the world stage and seeing what they can do at this year’s RWC.

Attending live games, North vs South, North vs South, Rugby, Rugby History, Super Rugby, Uncategorized

Super Rugby Fans Diasappear

Super Rugby is a competition that has been through many changes over its lifetime. The competition has been through phases of growth and phases of downsizing, as the organizers search for the winning formula. It has always been a competition that has never stopped giving the fans a thrill. An evening at the rugby for the most part always delivers the fans with some great entertainment. In recent years stadiums have emptied and fans aren’t coming to watch the live event anymore. Why is this the case and has this been caused by the ever changing format, which has meant less touring time and overall a lower amount of international derby games. There are so many things to analyse and understand. In this post I look at the data surrounding the demise of Super Rugby fans and try and look for what could be causing this demise.

Super Rugby has undergone 4 changes in the past 22 years, which have led to a great expansion of the competition. The changes have meant that Super Rugby is now played in Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa. The competition has now reached a stage where the organizers need to fine tune the product that it is giving the consumer. The competition’s up sizing and introducing of more teams from around the world meant that the format, which made it such a great brand to watch was lost. The conference system has had much criticism from fans and pundits alike. Radio New Zealand senior journalist Ben Strang shared his thoughts on the situation saying, “I think as long as TV rules over the scheduling of Super Rugby matches, crowds will continue to struggle.”

The above picture tells the story of how Super Rugby has changed through the years, but what effect has this actually had on the overall attendance of live games across South Africa? The data shows that between 2010 and 2018 the attendance at games in South Africa decreased by 60%. By looking at the timeline above this decrease began when the conference system was adopted. By putting two and two together is it possible to come to an understanding that the conference system is not a brand of Super Rugby that fans enjoy. This could be the reason that Super Rugby has announced that it will be moving back to the round robin format and switching back to 14 teams effective as of 2021.

Factors that have also influenced Super Rugby crowd attendance have also been economics. As the years have gone by the ticket prices have increased and an evening out is just not that affordable for the average person or family to go an attend. Stephen Kisbey-Green former sports editor of the Grocott’s Mail had this to say about the matter, “It’s difficult, because there are a lot of people that would like to go to the games, but the ticket prices and cost of getting to stadiums are just too expensive for them.” Stephen offers a solution to the matter saying, “Going back to the cost, I feel that stadiums are taking advantage of a “captive audience” market, meaning that they can up the cost of beer, cold drinks, and snacks to an almost exorbitant rate. If they made packages for games more cost effective, and introduced a tier system of fees, that might help the struggling rugby fan to afford the event.” Franchises still need to make money, but without the fans there would be no competition.

As an avid fan of rugby Super Rugby is something that I think has to be fixed if Southern Hemisphere teams are ever going to compete with Northern Hemisphere teams for the best players in the world. The lure of Northern money has become a big problem when it comes to retaining the best players in Super Rugby who get offered big contracts to play in Northern Hemisphere leagues such as the Premiership Rugby in the UK and French Top 14. The consequence of this drain of players also means that less fans are tuning in or going to the stadiums as all the stars are not present on the field anymore. If Super Rugby becomes the competition it once was sponsors will once again flock to the competition and teams will be able to retain the players, which will mean that the interest of fans will grow again.

North vs South, North vs South, Rugby, Rugby History, Rugby World Cup, Uncategorized

South vs North

The only Northern Hemisphere team to have ever lifted a Rugby World Cup (RWC) was England in 2003. On the other side of the spectrum the Southern Hemisphere sides have dominated at the RWC for the past three decades with Australia winning two (1991 & 1999), South Africa winning two (1995 & 2007), and New Zealand winning three (1987, 2011 & 2015). Can this current trend be broken at this years World Cup or will the Southern Hemisphere again rein supreme over the North. In this post I am going to give opinion on which teams are looking most likely to dominate at the RWC this year.

Graphic showing the Southern Hemisphere Dominance in the Rugby World Cup
Created by Joshua Parsons

King in the South

Due to the way that rugby is approached in the Southern Hemisphere where the youth grow up in a very rugby orientated culture. In the South kids are born with a rugby ball in their hands and to reinforce that a lot of emphasis is put on rugby at schools. The school rugby scene is very big with high-school and university games being broadcast on national television. A big emphasis is put on the sport from a young age. Naturally this creates a situation where, the youth coming through the system have a great understanding of the game.

Video documenting the Southern Hemisphere rugby dominance at RWC 2015
Video published by World Rugby on Youtube

Due to the climate in the South the game that is played is very different to way it is played in the North. This is mainly due to the climate as in the South rugby is played in summer and winters are usually dry, which means less kicking and more running rugby. On the other hand in the North there is more emphasis on goal kicking from penalties and this comes down to the wet climate, which makes it harder to play a running style of rugby. This means that players in the North and players in the South for the most part are playing two different brands or types of rugby. The South being quite fast and the North being quite slow and more orientated around strength rather than skill. With this being said Northern Hemisphere teams have started to play a more attractive styled running rugby in recent years and this has led to some close encounters between teams hailing from the two hemispheres.

A video showcasing the subtle difference between Northern and Southern Hemisphere rugby.
Video published by Rugby Zone on YouTube

Are the tables turning?

Recent years have seen Northern Hemisphere teams go from strength to strength. This can be seen in the recent change at the top of world rugby rankings, where Wales have gone number one replacing New Zealand who slipped up their final Rugby Championship games against Australia. To go a long with this the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in 2017 showed promise for the North and they drew the series with the All Blacks. At the helm of the North’s resurgence are Southern Hemisphere coach’s. Warren Gatland from New Zealand is head coach of both Wales and The British and Irish Lions which are the two teams that have played a major role in putting the North back on the radar. Joe Schmidt another New Zealander has also played a major role as head coach of Ireland who have beaten New Zealand twice in the past three years. Eddie Jones of Australia is also showing promise as the Head coach of the English national side who narrowly lost to New Zealand at the end of 2018.

Video discussing the resurgence of Northern Hemisphere rugby
Video published by BT Sport on YouTube

If there was a time for things to change it would be this year as we see how the North has put itself back on the rugby map. As it stands three out of the four teams, which the numbers are favoring to win the Web Ellis trophy hail from the Northern Hemisphere. These teams are Ireland, England and Wales, along with the only team from the Southern Hemisphere being New Zealand. Therefore, this could be the year that we finally see the tables turn once and for all in favor of Northern Hemisphere sides. At the end of the day only time will tell if the Northern Hemisphere have bridged the gap.

Rugby, Rugby History, Rugby World Cup

How to win the Rugby World Cup?

As Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2019 closes in its time to explore what it is going to take to win the hallowed Web Ellis trophy. In this post I am going to look what various bits of data can tell us and see what the experts have to say about the topic. I will unpack the build up and the conditioning, as well as the mindset of a RWC winning team. Finally, which teams embrace these characteristics as a RWC winning team. Lets find out…

1999 Wallbies RWC winning captain John Eales gives his take on what it takes to win a RWC
Video published by World Rugby on YouTube

Preparation

As the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin goes, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Most of the teams will have been preparing for the world cup since the end of the last world cup. There would have been a lot of introspection and looking at where they went wrong and how they can best improve themselves so that they can be at the top of their game come kick off in Japan. Some teams would have had more time to prepare than others and some will just be happy to have qualified for the tournament. However, every team that is there will have had to have put in some sort of work to realize their goals at this years RWC. Famous rugby coach Eddie Jones wrote this of his preparations with the England side in an article for the Japanese Times, “A well-prepared team can beat a team that’s better physically and athletically. We did that with Japan against South Africa in 2015. If you’re better-prepared tactically, you can beat other teams. When it comes to the World Cup, you have to maximize your resources and that means maximizing your preparation.”

A video highlighting England’s preparations for the RWC.
Video published by England Rugby on YouTube

Experience is key.

In terms of winning a RWC every team that has won a world cup has had one thing in common and that was that they all had a wealth of experience. Previous winners in the professional era of the game have never had lower than 633 total caps in their team. The lowest average number of caps in a team was the Australian winning side of 1999, which averaged 42,20 caps. The highest average number of caps in a World Cup winning side was the New Zealand side that won in 2015 who had an average of 66,40 caps. This is a key thing to highlight as the more familiar players are with the team and the high pressure that test rugby brings the more successful they are likely to be.

Figure showing average number of caps for every RWC winning team since 1999.
Created by Joshua Parsons

What do the stats say?

Any team that has ever won the RWC has won all of their games at the tournament and so if you want win the tournament you should start by aiming for that 100% win record at the tournament. The world rankings mean very little going into a RWC, which will give hope to some of the lower ranked teams, however the only team to have won a RWC and not been ranked number 1 before the start of the tournament was South Africa. Team form between world cups is not a great indicator, which is similar to world rankings. A thing to note from the statistics was that teams that generally did well at the tournament started peaking just before the tournament. Teams that have won the RWC generally have had ad least 5 world class players. This stat tells us that a coach can build a team around 5 players. These players would be in key positions such as hooker, lock, 8th man, and the halfbacks.

THE 1014 RUGBY team analyse the numbers behind winning the RWC
Video published by Spark Sport on YouTube

With all this being said I think that this years RWC is going to be one of the most exciting world cups in world rugby history. This is due to the way that most of the international teams have been playing over the past two years. Most games between top teams are very close and tough to call, which makes it more exciting and thrilling to watch. I think that this world cup will have us on the edge of our seats and there maybe a few upsets on the cards. Ultimately it comes down to more than just numbers, stats and preparation. The key thing is that you have an unbreakable team that is able to stand up and play when it is most important. You need players that have that determination to fight for each other and get over the line. As they say rugby can be a funny game sometimes. At the moment if I were to pick a favorite it would definitely be Wales due to their recent form and the fact that they have managed to beat South Africa consistently over the last 4 year cycle.

Rugby, Rugby History, Women's Rugby

Women in Rugby

The women’s game is a dark horse with most rugby supporters knowing quite little about the women’s game. The women’s game has grown formidably since 2017 with a 28% increase in overall registered female players. From 2013 up until June 2018 World Rugby has seen a 60% increase in the amount of girls and women taking part in rugby. Currently, there are a total 2.7 million women playing rugby across the globe, meaning that women make up a quarter of the total population of players. The female game is therefore growing rapidly as women also make up 40% of the game’s 400 million strong fan base. Due to this, is seeing tremendous growth through women with more women currently joining compared to men.

What has drawn many women to rugby is that it allows them to break down a patriarchal stereotype. It is also highly beneficial and helps maintain physical fitness. Playing rugby is also good for the mind like many other sport, as well as having social benefits because it makes it easier to make friends and spend time with people before and after games.

WOMEN´S RUGBY TRIBUTE ▪️ Best Tries, Tackles & Offloads ᴴᴰ
Video by Creative Prop

The pay gap

There is much to do when it comes to gender equality in rugby. The biggest disparity is seen in the gender pay gap. The men’s game is professional meaning that players get full salaries that support them while they play. Most women get paid next to nothing for their efforts, which means they have to hold down a full time jobs whilst playing. If they get injured and cannot work this will put these women under immense financial pressure.

‘Men earn 93 times more than women’: Basketballer Lauren Jackson speaks on the gender pay gap
Video by ABC News (Australia)

England have become the first rugby nation to offer women full professional contracts to play. This could most certainly lead to their dominance in the game as these ladies will be able to fully devote themselves to training, meaning that they will not have to work a full time job whilst also having to focus on training. Other nations such as New Zealand, France and Australia have also made steps to give players better pay, but none have been as bold as the English in offering players lucrative full time contracts.

Figure showing the gender pay gap in rugby for England and South Africa
Created by Joshua Parsons

Why?

The justification for the pay gap between men’s teams and women’s teams comes down to media coverage. Most men’s games are broadcast on national television and aired at prime time. This draws sponsors to the teams that are playing in these games. In order to get more funding into the women’s game, more sponsorship is needed. The problem is that sponsors rely on media coverage. This is why sports such as tennis and athletics have equal pay for men and women, because both both genders have the same media coverage. Therefore, in order to get more money into women’s rugby there needs to be an increase in the media coverage. Inevitably, if there is no increase in the media coverage of women’s rugby then the cycle of unequal and low pay will continue.

The Female Athlete: Missing in Action | Cheryl Cooky | TEDxPurdueU
Talk by Cheryl Cooky
Video published by TEDx Talks

Can broadcasters take a chance on women?

People are definitely taking more interest in the women’s game and this is most notably seen in England and France where more investment is coming into the game. The women’s Six Nations competition is currently being broadcast on television, which will help in attracting new sponsors to those teams. Fans are also getting behind their teams and coming out in numbers to watch games. In March of 2018 an attendance of 17440 was reached at Stade des Alpes for the Six Nations game where England faced off against France. That same weekend saw the Principality Stadium fulled with 11062 fans who came out to watch Wales take on Italy. These numbers bode well for future investment in women’s rugby.

Will Men and Women Ever Be Paid the Same in Sport?
Video by Good Morning Britain

Women are needed

In order for rugby to grow and expand the mindset that rugby is a men’s sport needs to change. Women needed to be considered equal to men in the sport and investment needs to grow. Rugby can help break down the boundaries that separate men and women in our society today. The game still has a long way to go, but progress is already being made and hopefully soon both genders will be on the same playing field, which will be exciting to see.

Attending live games, Japan, Passions, Rugby, Rugby History, Rugby World Cup, The History of Japanese Rugby, Top League, Travel, TRAVELLING JAPAN, University Rugby

Rugby in Japan?

The rugby world knows little about Japanese rugby and how popular the sport is in the land of the rising sun. When you think about rugby, Japan doesn’t necessarily come to mind. However, contrary to this bias, the host nation of this year’s 2019 Rugby World Cup (RWC) has a rich rugby history. This years RWC is being played in Asia for the first time, which is very exciting for world rugby. In this post I explore the origins of rugby in Japan as well as the rugby structures present in the country.

Host Country/ContinentYear
New Zealand & Australia1987
Europe1991
South Africa1995
Wales 1999
Australia 2003
France 2007
New Zealand 2011
England 2015
Japan2019
France 2023

Figure 1: showing host nations and years of rugby world cups.

Created by Joshua Parsons.

The history of rugby in Japan

Rugby was first played in Japan in 1866, when the first Rugby Club in Japan was founded called the Yokohama Foot Ball Club. Rugby was played in Japan before big rugby playing nations such as France, New Zealand and South Africa. The only other places with a longer history are Australia and The British Isles. The Yokohama Foot Ball Club was the first ever Asian rugby club. The establishment of Yokohama Foot Ball Club came about due to over a thousand British troops who were stationed in the area. Many had played Rugby at school in England. The large number of troops made it easy to play as back in those days 40 players were needed to play a game. This was the foundation of rugby in Japan and is also the untold history of how the game started in the land of the rising son.

Scene of a rugby game in Japan.
Source: Harper’s 1874, Illustrator unknown

The father of Japanese rugby

The Japanese began playing rugby at Keio University in 1899. Ginnosuke Tanaka and Edward Bramwell Clarke introduced the great game to the men of classes they taught at the University. The University played their first official game in 1901 against expatriates of the Yokohama County Athletics  team. The team established fixtures against other clubs and soon the sport grew in Universities. This lead to the first inter-university game being played between Doshisha and Waseda Universities in 1923. The early 1920’s saw rugby grow rapidly in Japan, having over 60 000 players and 1 500 clubs. Tanaka is now remembered as ‘the father of Japanese rugby’. The birth of rugby in the land of the rising son led to the first ever Japanese tour in 1930. The national team traveled to Canada and had great success winning 6 games and losing 1. The ‘Brave Blossoms’ have participated in every RWC since its inception in 1987.

A picture of Ginnosuke Tanaka
Source: Wikimedia Commons

How popular is rugby in Japan today?

Japan is the fourth biggest rugby playing nation in the world with a population of 122 872 rugby players as well as having 3 631 official clubs. The national side nicknamed The Cherry Blossoms or The Brave Blossoms are ranked 11th in world rugby. Although rugby is only the 5th most popular sport in Japan they have a competitive domestic league called Top League. Top League draws players from many strong rugby nations. There are well known players such as Daniel Carter and Matt Giteau who have had stints playing in Japan.

Vlog by The Imbiber published on YouTube

University rugby in Japan

Rugby is popular at Universities around Japan, which participate in The All-Japan University Rugby Football Championship. The championship kicked off in 1964 and currently there are currently 16 universities competing. The most successful University in the competition is Waseda University who have won 15 Championships. The final is usually well attended having close 40 000 spectators as of 2005. The University rugby culture in Japan is very competitive. University teams often play against professional teams, however there is a gulf in class between the two levels.

Video published by World Rugby on YouTube

Why will the RWC be special?

Japan is an exciting new frontier for world rugby fans as all the world cups to date have been hosted by top tier nations of rugby. This new frontier could open a new dimension and will help grow the game in Asia. The expansion of rugby into this new realm, which most orthodox rugby supporters know very little about is one of general excitement. A ticket to Japan will be a prized possession come 20 September 2019.