What the world rugby needs if it wants to keep growing is another major nation to start challenging the top teams, argues Teo Fudakowski.
Outside of the traditional powerhouses, the only real contender at this point seems to be Japan. After their famous win over the Springboks in the last World Cup it felt like everyone instantly had a soft spot for them but when they pushed Wales to the limit late last year it proved the performance wasn’t a fluke.
With the next World Cup also being hosted there it gives the feel that they will continue to improve and potentially make it into the knockout stages of the tournament. The unfortunate thing is that, even if they achieve this, what inevitably will happen is either Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or England will end up winning, and realistically it will be the All Blacks adding a third successive win to the rugby history books.
What about beyond the next World Cup though? For a long time, there has been a sense that the next big rugby nation would be America. The US had the highest viewing audience of any nation for rugby sevens in the last Olympics and with the launch of their first professional rugby competition it seemed almost certain that they would be the next major rugby nation to emerge.
Unfortunately, in its first season the PRO rugby competition failed, with limited interest from fans and players being left short changed with their wages or being paid late. So all of a sudden the excitement that once surrounded the potential of rugby in the US seems to have dimmed but there is still hope out there for the development of the game.
As mentioned earlier, the US had the highest viewing audience for sevens at the Olympics, but guess which country was second? It was China, with 44 million people there watching, double the amount of people that tuned in from the UK.
On top of that, the announcement that Alisports will be investing $100 million into the game in China over the next ten years means that a certain degree of success will be guaranteed, as everyone knows the only thing that will definitely bring you success in the sport is having a big cheque book.
The Chinese certainly have that and so the question isn’t really, will China be successful, but when.
China currently sits in 68th position on the World Rugby rankings, the USA in 17th and Japan in 11th. China certainly has the biggest climb but over the next few years expect to watch them skyrocket up the rankings and hopefully ignite interest by challenging Japan as the dominant rugby nation of Asia.
With healthy competition comes improvement, and perhaps this future contest between Asian countries is where the future of the game is heading?
Teo Fudakowski, Pundit Arena