Editorial: Rugby World Cup must be catalyst for game to build

When Argentina broke the All Black defence at one point in their quarter-final match and swept away for a try in the corner, it was a good omen for rugby after this World Cup.

Next season Argentina will be added to the formerly "Tri-Nations" championship of the Southern Hemisphere in the interests not only of developing the game in that country but in the hope of reviving waning interest in the annual internationals on this side of the world.

Something new is sorely needed. Stadium attendances and television audiences for the Super 15 and Tri-Nations contests have been falling in recent years. Avid interest in the quadrennial World Cup cannot hide the fact that the sport needs a new formula to sustain interest in the years between.

Nor is the World Cup alone sufficient for the game's development, as is evident every four years when the same teams with one or two variations emerge from pool rounds.

Teams such as Argentina and Samoa have looked capable at times of entering the top flight, but without more frequent matches at that level they have not improved.

To help Argentina compete with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, it will receive set-up funds from the International Rugby Board and the Tri-Nations partners for the first four seasons.

The IRB has also arranged for Argentina's professionals to be released from Northern Hemisphere clubs for the six weeks of southern internationals. If the set-up from next season goes well, young Argentines will come to know rugby the way it is played in this hemisphere and their players might make careers in southern competitions instead.

Rugby in this part of the world should be doing just as much for Pacific teams and Japan. The game needs to seize the opportunity presented by the interest the cup has awakened in New Zealand for many teams besides our familiar rivals. New Zealand could stage an annual Pacific Cup involving the All Blacks, Japan, Canada, the United States and Island teams that could include New Zealanders of Pacific descent.

The World Cup has probably also boosted interest in another element of our regular international itinerary - the June tours by a northern nation. These ventures, sandwiched between the Super 15 and the Tri-Nations, have not excited visiting sides or their hosts. From next season they will be extended from two tests to three in the hope they might acquire the lustre of tours of old.

Ireland will make the first three-test June tour next year, followed by France in 2013 and England in 2014. Ireland's fortunes at the World Cup and the spirit of their travelling supporters should guarantee interest in those who return in nine months.

Rugby urgently needs to capitalise on the success of the cup.

Interest in the annual international competitions has to be sustained for the sake of the game at lower levels that now crucially depend on revenue earned at the top. Clubs, provincial unions and even Super 15 franchises are financially stretched.

Other professional sports have settled on annual leagues that fill stadiums and keep fans glued to televised matches year after year. Rugby, at least in the Southern Hemisphere, has yet to find the right formula for the years between World Cups. Next year's June tour and four-nations contest need to succeed.

- NZ Herald

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