We can learn from Union

Can it really be four whole years since Jonny Wilkinson kicked that goal (incidentally his 41st of the tournament no less, without one solitary try) to clinch the 2003 Rugby [Union] World Cup?

It must be because rugby [union] is suddenly catapulted to the forefront of sports editors’ minds, and we have to make do with columnists wondering why rugby didn’t have a world cup until 1987. (1954 ring any bells? Thought not).

But instead of being bitter we can learn a lot from what has been a massive success for rugby union; when England brought the cup home four years ago the press predicted that rugby [union] was set to take over from football as the top sport in the country.

That was quite obviously never going to happen, but that it was even considered a possibility in our soccer-dominated society is pretty amazing. It shows that this tournament is a massive publicity tool for union.

It also shows that rugby league has to do something to try and emulate union’s success. Our version of the Rugby World Cup (the one that came first by 33 years) is taking place in Australia next year, and is the perfect opportunity for our game to be given the limelight.

A note of realism: our world cup will not be given the same kind of coverage that the union world cup gets. To a certain extent this is unfair; but it has to be admitted that our international game is not as strong as theirs, and we should expect less coverage, and much less hype.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I remember playing rugby league in PE class during the last union tournament. It was the first time many in the class had been introduced to rugby; they had been watching union and playing league. Their comment? “Rugby’s better than football to play, but football’s better to watch.”

That remark says it all. Rugby league is a game that draws a person in, whether watching or playing. If people who have never watched either code before sit down and watch our world cup it’s possible they can become fully-fledged league fans.

The Rugby [Union] World Cup has also shown that having smaller nations involved does no harm. Australia beat Japan 91-3, while Argentina could only beat Georgia by 33 points to three.

This shows that smaller nations can put up a credible performance against bigger opponents, but if they don’t the tournament won’t lose credibility. It makes a mockery of the RLIF’s decision to reduce the world cup to 10 participants and introduce the ridiculous “super group” because they were afraid of one-sided games.

Let’s just hope that these self-imposed setbacks won’t prevent the Rugby [League] World Cup from being the success that our game needs it to be.

[b]Grassroots are important[/b]

Celtic Crusaders can feel very pleased with themselves: they’ve just become National League Two champions and earned promotion to NL1. It should be a huge boost for league in Wales to see games against the likes of Salford and Widnes / Castleford [delete as applicable].

But the victory has been marred slightly by the lack of Welshmen in the Crusaders’ squad. Of course we shouldn’t talk down a great achievement, but hopefully the Welsh side can start to bring through some local players through the ranks. The club plans to set up an academy side next season, so they are obviously aware of this need.

Sheffield Eagles have done a similar thing in setting up a scholarship programme. The Eagles have just earned an NL1 play-off place and they, like Celtic, know that their best chance of maintaining success is bring young players through the ranks.

[b]Strange ruling[/b]

The Crusaders will also be glad of their promotion because, apparently, any existing team hoping for a Super League franchise in 2009 will have to be in NL1 or Super League itself, according to an RFL ruling. This was not something I was aware of myself, but it’s been stated in the rugby league press a couple of times since Celtic looked like getting promoted.

This ruling seems to signal curtains for Toulouse’s hopes of getting a Super League franchise, despite very strong inferences that Toulouse where one of those sides ready to join the bright new world of Super League.

Maybe this is a sign that the RFL don’t want a second French team, or maybe that there will only be 12 spots available rather than 14; or maybe Toulouse will get in Super League in next year and by-pass the ruling. Or, more likely, this is just another sign that no-one as yet has any clear idea about what is going to happen in the very near future.

[b]Keep Your Eye On Rugby League[/b]

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