The ARU has come up with a way of making Tests between World Cups matter. They believe rugby needs a “World Series” in which the results of Tests every second year would determine the two leading teams, who would then meet in a final.
Tests between World Cups are often regarded as preparation for the next World Cup, with countries selecting second-string teams for less-important matches.
France, for example, used their South African tour last year to blood several youngsters ahead of the 2007 World Cup, while the All Blacks played their ‘B’ team against Ireland and Scotland on the Grand Slam tour, opting to save their best side for Wales and England.
The Sydney Morning Herald has learnt that a concept is to be put to the IRB which involves Tests, including pre-season and end-of-season internationals played by major nations, being allocated points on a win/loss basis.
Greg Growden reports that the two teams that finish with the highest number of points or best win ratio would meet in a final at the end of the calendar year. That match would be played at a neutral venue, with lucrative prizemoney on offer.
Aussie officials have been concerned for some time that when northern hemisphere teams travel Down Under before Tri Nations series the matches have often taken on the status of a friendly rather than a fully fledged Test.
Officials argue a World Series, which would be held only in years when the World Cup is not being staged or when the British & Irish Lions are not touring, would dramatically increase the importance of these matches because every game would be crucial in determining the final spots.
It would also make the Tests outside the Six Nations and Tri-Nations a far more attractive product for spectators, broadcasters and sponsors, while putting pressure on national coaches to pick their best sides when on tour.
The World Series would involve about eight or nine matches. In one season, Australia’s World Series games could involve Ireland, England, Italy and Argentina in June-July, followed by two matches of the Tri Nations series (one each against New Zealand and South Africa), before they played Wales, Scotland and France in November.
The other countries would have similar schedules.
The major problem with a World Series is that it would detract from the World Cup. The World Cup is the IRB’s big cash cow and they would be reluctant to detract attention from the main event.