So did RWC Ltd. listen?
The biggest criticism of the 2011 Rugby World Cup was the schedule – lesser teams were given uneven schedules (long layoffs and then two games in five days), and because the schedule was designed to put the marquee teams on the stage during the weekend, the lesser teams were relegated to the middle of the week.
This was in part because RWC Ltd. remembered 1999, when all of the games were on the weekend, meaning the tournament lost all marketing momentum during the off days. So since then, the tournament has tried to have a game on almost every day. There is, argued many, a middle ground.
The IRB and RWC Ltd. got together with Tier I teams and said they had heard the complaints of the teams (chief among them, Tonga and Samoa, who felt that the quick turnaround really cost them). The Tier I teams said they would be willing to make their schedules a little less ideal for the sake of the game (big of them). Now that the schedule is out, did the tournament make the changes?
Quick Turnarounds. Each team has three gaps between games in pool play. Of those gaps, nine are what we’d call “long” – nine or ten days. And nine are what we’d call “short” or four days.
In 2011, there were only five long layoffs, and ten short layoffs. So a tiny bit more rest. However, the big change is how the short turnarounds are doled out.
In 2011, the lion’s share of the quick turnarounds were given to lesser teams. Six teams, including the USA and Canada, had a schedule that had test matches four or five days apart – twice.
All of those teams were Tier II or Tier III, except perhaps Samoa, who were basically screwed by the schedule. Five other teams got quick turnarounds (four or five days). Three were Tier II. The other two were Italy and South Africa.
In 2015, it’s the same situation. Six teams get a double dose of quick turnarounds. The difference is, in 2011 the double-dip teams were playing games four days apart, and this time, it’s five. All of the double-dip teams are Tier II, and include Americas 1 (USA or Canada).
However, it’s worth pointing out that six Tier I nations also get a a short turnaround. The IRB finally realized that it’s no great hardship for New Zealand to play Argentina on September 20 and Africa 1 (someone like Namibia) on September 24. Those are the teams that can handle it.
So not a massive change, but a small one.
As for playing on the weekends, every team plays at least once on the weekend, and usually three times.
Who gets it sweet? England. Gaps of 8, 7 and 7, and four weekend games. Samoa (who rightly complained about the schedule last time), Ireland, and Italy all have nicely evenly-spaced matches.
Who gets screwed? France, who start their tournament with two games in the space of five days, and New Zealand, likewise. Is it a coincidence that in the New Zealand World Cup, South Africa got a tough schedule, and in England in 2015 France and New Zealand get a hit?
What about days off and losing momentum? In 2011, Pool Play ran from September 9 through October 2, and there were four days with no games.
In 2015, the tournament will run from September 18 through October 11, and will have six days with no games. Hardly a difference.
(Interestingly, the RWC 2015 organizers decided to make Monday an off day every week, with the second off day of the week rotating between Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.)
So in the end, RWC Ltd. and the IRB listened, and made a few small changes. They didn’t make massive ones, but they are good enough.
These changes are:
Didn’t pile on to smaller nations by expecting them to play two tests with only three non-playing days in between.
Shifted some of the short turnaround burden to higher-seeded teams.
Accepted that it’s OK to have two off-days in a week.
Made sure all teams will be featured during weekend games, thus giving every nation a chance to play in front of a big crowd.
(Running Touch is an opinion column occasionally written by RUGBYMag.com Editor-in-Chief Alex Goff.)