21 Sep 2011

IRB crows about its investment in minnow nations

10:36 am on 21 September 2011

The International Rugby Board's investment in second and third tier nations is already reaping dividends at the World Cup, according to its top man.

IRB secretary general Mike Miller says what happened to Romania in the 1970s will never be repeated.

The competitiveness of the so-called "minnows" has been one of the more welcome features of the first two weeks of the eighth World Cup in a sport where a handful of heavyweights have for so long dominated.

With the exception of the 13-try demolition of Japan by hosts New Zealand, the pool games have been more closely fought than at previous World Cups where mis-matches threatened to devalue rugby's showpiece tournament.

Miller says the IRB has invested millions of dollars in the Pacific islands and Russia and USA, Canada and Romania to give them the same sort of competitive structure, strength, conditioning and match analysis as the top 10 countries.

He says those nations don't tire in the last 20 minutes like they used to now that they're stronger and fitter and they are more sophisticated in the way that they play.

The Irishman says the IRB really didn't expect to see this great an improvement so soon, after the investment by the IRB in both the top nations and second and third tier countries had being going for some six years now because they're looking 20 to 30 years down the line.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Romania threatened to break into the cartel of top nations when it started producing teams capable of beating the likes of Wales, Scotland and France.

But the IRB didn't act to get the Romanians into an expanded Five Nations and the collapse of the country's Communist regime in 1989 signalled the end of domestic investment in the sport, precipitating a rapid decline in rugby in the Eastern European nation.

Miller says Romania were very strong at the tail-end of the amateur era but at the time, world rugby did not grasp the opportunity that was presented to it.

The most recent example of a nation breaking into the elite echelons of the game came at the 2007 World Cup when an impressive Argentina team finished third.

Argentina are set to join the Southern Hemisphere's Tri-Nations next year to make it the Four Nations.

Miller says it's sometimes tough to deal with the expectations people in the game had of the IRB and the speed at which results could be achieved in areas like development but he prefers people to have heightened expectations rather than low expectations.