IRB levels field for smaller World Cup nations
Brett Gosper didn't quite ride into down-town Apia on a white horse but the message he delivered in Wellington yesterday will be a popular one around the Pacific.
The International Rugby Board's chief executive has revealed the 2015 World Cup match schedule will not be weighted toward the tier one nations as it was in 2011.
And further, he believes a better understanding now exists among European clubs around the importance of releasing players for rugby's showpiece event.
"We think that [in] the next World Cup schedule, which will be announced very soon, sometimes toward the end of April, maybe early May, there is a very strong fairness in terms of the rest periods and so on," Gosper said.
"It will be the same for all teams. It will be far more equal, completely equal versus the last World Cup."
That will be music to the ears of the Samoan, Tongan, Fijian and Japan rugby unions whose teams were heavily penalised by the draw during the 2011 tournament.
Samoa were irate after playing Wales in Hamilton just four days after their first game of the tournament, their opponents having a full week's rest to prepare.
Japan played all four of their pool A games in 17 days, while the tier one nations played only on the weekends in order to boost broadcast ratings.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said it was a big step in the right direction and one supported by the All Blacks.
"We asked for it after the last World Cup. We thought it was unjust that the smaller unions were asked to play in a pinnacle event with shorter turnaround times than our games."
Gosper is also confident the smaller nations will have the full complement of players in 2015 after many, particularly from Fiji, were not released or discouraged from participating in 2011.
Recent meetings had improved communications between the IRB and clubs around some misunderstandings, including who footed the bill for insurance payments.
Gosper has a good grasp of international rugby. The former Australian under-21 and Racing Metro stalwart of the 1980s, who twice played against the All Blacks, is in New Zealand for the first time since becoming the head of the IRB.
And though he played in the midfield during his career, he has also overseen yet another change to the scrum engagement, one that could be introduced during this year's NPC in New Zealand.
It appears "crouch, touch, set" will soon be replaced by "crouch, bind, set" in a move designed to stabilise scrums, reduce resets and maximise players' long-term health.
"There has been some very thorough tests, testing pressure in scrums for player welfare to see what the issues of pressure can be on long-term health and so on," Gosper said. "In that process some new engagement laws have been trialled in the PRC [Pacific Rugby Cup] which was just completed.
"It seems the new engagement that was trialled, which is a three step process where the bind is held . . . reduced the impact of the scrum in the front row by about 25 per cent and therefore created a lot of stability.
"It seems in the tests there were higher outcomes in scrum completions because of that and the players and referees all felt very comfortable."
The IRB council is expected to vote to extend the new process to a global trial in May, meaning it could be in place for the NPC and the All Blacks' end of year tour.
The Dominion Post