TOKYO, 29 Oct – The decision to bring the Rugby World Cup to Japan has been such a success that other new hosts should be embraced, according to Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll.
The former Ireland captain was captivated by the Japan team’s thrilling approach on the field, which fired up the nation. “They were inspiring,” he said. “Before the Ireland-All Blacks game it felt as if they were playing the best brand of rugby.
“What I thought was clever about it was that for a nation that doesn’t probably know rugby like other countries in the World Cup, what is the best way to get the entire country behind you? Playing that fast, frenetic, free-flowing style. It suits them. Obviously they don’t want to get in an arm-wrestle, but it’s great to watch.
“I hope they can carry it on. I hope World Rugby are paying attention to their needs to play more Tier 1 games.
“I have seen the stats on the Tier 2 nations over a four-year cycle and how few Tier 1 games they play is to their detriment. We have got to work out some system where the gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2 is shortened.”
Ireland have never been sole RWC hosts, something O’Driscoll, below, hoped would change in four years’ time, but France won a three-way fight that also included South Africa.
However, he is certain the game’s showpiece needs to repeat the Japan experiment and visit new territories. “I hope so – we need to do that. I was part of the Ireland 2023 bid and we were disappointed not to get it. If it’s not Ireland, so be it, but if we could get to the States (USA) or somewhere like Italy…
“It might be a little bit early for the States, and the infrastructure in Argentina probably isn’t there yet, so it is probably a bit early there, too.
“I understand that 90 per cent of what World Rugby plugs back into the game is earned at World Cups, so you can’t afford to get that wrong, but it’s not all about money.
“It’s trying to find some happy medium between growing the game in new markets, like here, but also making sure it pays for itself over the four-year cycle.”
He laughed as he suggested going to England or France every eight years, and somewhere new in-between, but it does neatly encapsulate the tension between maximising revenue and expanding the world game.
As for this World Cup, the man who won 133 caps for his country is hoping for a fitting end to a wonderful tournament. He picked five England players – Manu Tuilagi, George Ford, Sam Underhill, Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler – in his team of the tournament, against two South Africans – Damian de Allende and Duane Vermeulen – but is nonetheless predicting a tight contest.
“England are the favourites, but it’s a final and all bets are off in finals. If South Africa can drag England into an arm-wrestle they have got a great chance. They have history in World Cup finals,” he said.
“They will fancy themselves because everyone is saying ‘England, England, England’. But I think it will be a close game still: a low-scoring, close game.”