The obvious joke in World Rugby vice-president Agustin Pichot's reported idea about introducing a 'League of Nations' format involving the top 12 teams in the world is that Australia, who have dropped from fifth to seventh recently, may not qualify by the time it's set up.

But in all seriousness, if Pichot's comments in a French newspaper are right, and he really does want to start an annual tournament in November held alternately in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, the joke might once again be on the Pacific Islands and other tier two nations.

The idea has yet to be confirmed – no one from New Zealand Rugby would comment - and it may or may not get an airing at World Rugby's meeting in Sydney this week where rugby's global fixture list will be thrashed out once again, but it seems on the face of it to be a case of rewarding the richer nations at the expense of the poorer ones.

And that's a theme that will surprise no one who has anything to do with Pacific Islands rugby.


According to Midi Olympique, under Pichot's proposal November tours would be scrapped from 2020 and replaced by an international competition divided into four groups of three, with three pool games followed by a semifinal and final.

There is an obvious danger here that the Rugby World Cup, held every four years, would be diluted as a result and it comes at the same time as World Rugby's head Brett Gosper pushes to expand the World Cup from 20 to 24 teams and possibly from as early as the French tournament in 2023.

To put it politely, the reaction to Gosper's idea has been mixed, with the International Rugby Players' Association insisting World Rugby should try harder to close the gap between the tier one and tier two nations before thinking about grand expansion schemes which proved so disastrous for Super Rugby.

Back to Pichot's reported idea of a top-12 tournament. Under World Rugby's official ranking system, Fiji are currently 10th, Tonga 12th (under pressure from Georgia, only .71 points behind) and Samoa, who recently appointed a new head coach in former Blues assistant Steve Jackson, 16th.

For Fiji and Tonga to have such high rankings compared with, say, Six Nations side Italy (14th) is remarkable. But their grip on the ladder is tenuous at best and who knows how they will be placed in two years.

World Rugby funds 90 to 95 per cent of the Pacific Islands nations' budgets. Hopefully in Sydney this week they will discuss some ideas about providing a more meaningful fixture list to a group of countries who have provided the game with such rich talent over the years.

But it's difficult to go past the recent comments of International Rugby Players' Association boss Omar Hassanein, who told Fairfax Media in Australia: "Some might argue that the more teams getting exposure at World Cup time will address the [disparity] but what tier two nations need and part of our overall position is that not only do they need more guaranteed conditions on pay and welfare, they also need more guaranteed fixtures so they can begin to bridge the gap.

He added: "Within the four-year cycle we have to try to get better quality matches. Generally, they get one big game a year but it's a case of trying to match them up against each other more often. The Pacific Rim tournaments, which matched the Pacific Islands with Canada, Japan and the United States, while they cost a bit of money, they were always successful."


New Zealand Rugby can help lead the way. The All Blacks' test against Samoa in Apia before the World Cup in 2015 was an incredible success on an emotional, rather than perhaps a financial, level, and they should try to organise something similar before the All Blacks travel to Japan next year. It must be Fiji's turn.