17 May 2018

A refreshing bit of sanity in the rugby world

12:18 pm on 17 May 2018

The All Black squad to take on France next month is named on Sunday but in a refreshing sign of the times, that news has taken a back seat to the goings on of the traditional have-nots of rugby union.

Pacific Islanders perform haka during the match between NSW Waratahs v Punjas Pacific Islands, Aussie Stadium. 25th June 2004. Photograph taken by Paul Seiser ©Seiser Photography/ Photosport

Photo: Photosport

The last 48 hours has seen the first positive step towards a Pacific Island team in Super Rugby, the announcement of a major event in the women's game, and the clean up of a serious issue regarding Tier 2 nation qualifying for next year's World Cup.

Let's get one thing straight about the news about the Pacific Island team: it was a viability study only, and doesn't mean that next season we're going to see another side added to the competition. While there was a Pacific Islands side that played test matches back in 2003-04, this would be a much bigger undertaking: home matches being split between Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, as well as games in Auckland and Sydney.

Factor in the massive difference between then and now in terms of the rugby landscape. The migration of players away from the islands, while a big deal back in those days, has increased dramatically. However, this does open up a genuine pathway to professional rugby that hasn't previously existed on the islands themselves. Whether it actually ends up happening though is the big question, given just how volatile the rugby world is looking at the end of next season.

But the door has been opened for the one thing that many Super Rugby fans have been demanding for years.

One thing that definitely is happening was confirmed this morning, though. The world champion Black Ferns will take on the USA at none other than Soldier Field, Chicago. The same venue that has hosted the All Blacks will now be part of a triple-header rugby event in November, with the Māori All Blacks taking on the USA men's side and a test match between Ireland and Italy.

Black Fern Michaela Blyde in action

Black Fern Michaela Blyde in action Photo: Photosport

The most consistent narrative around rugby is the supposed need to 'break into the US market'. Which, on the surface seems like a fantastic idea - except that there's an awful lot more to it than just chucking some games on TV and presuming that Americans will fall in love with the sport. The times the All Blacks have played there have been little more than marketing gimmicks for AIG - yes, they lost to Ireland last time but a quick examination of the team picked that day shows just how seriously they were taking that match.

The key difference with this fixture is that women's rugby in the US is strong, and has been that way for a long time, so this is a legitimate international match that will be played in front of what will most likely be the largest attendance for a women's test match. This will be a meaningful, historic event that the Black Ferns deserve and will grow their profile in the women's pro sport market that definitely is there for the taking.

Also this morning came news that World Rugby have acted on the debacle that's clouded the recent World Cup qualifying matches. This all came about thanks to the outrageous scenes at the end of the Spain v Belgium game, which saw Spanish players attacking the allegedly biased Romanian referee. Turns out the Spanish were in no place to be complaining as it was found they'd used ineligible players in their lead-up games. In fact, it's more of a case of who wasn't cheating as Belgium were found guilty of the same offence.

[embed ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTcyamiYv8g

The result of all this is that now the playoff winner between Germany and Portugal will face Samoa for a place in the tournament. In another bit of good news for Pacific Island rugby, that fixture has been brought forward so that Samoa can select its best side in the June test window.

So, underprivileged nations and women getting a leg up. Let's all enjoy this refreshing bit of sanity that just blew through the rugby world.