The International Rugby Board (IRB) said yesterday it has revamped the rugby union 2015 World Cup match schedule to stop giving top nations an unfair advantage by allowing them a week’s rest between games.
IRB chief executive Brett Gosper also said he had moved to clamp down on clubs preventing players from smaller nations attending the tournament, although he said it was a difficult problem to solve.
Small nations complained bitterly during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand that the timetable was skewed toward the game’s traditional superpowers because their matches were scheduled at the weekends to maximize TV audiences.
This gave them six or seven days to recover, while the less high-profile sides often had to play midweek and weekend matches, giving them as little as three days between matches, before a longer break.
Gosper said the timetable for the 2015 tournament in England, due to be released late this month or early next month, had been altered to fix the problem.
“There’s very strong fairness in terms of rest periods and so on. It will be the same for all teams,” he told reporters. “It will be far more equal, compared to the last World Cup.”
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew backed the move, saying it was a question of fairness.
“We asked for it,” he said. “We thought that it was unjust that the small unions were asked to play a critical event with shorter [rest] times than our games, so tier-one nations made that request at the end of the last World Cup.”
Gosper said the IRB was also working to address concerns raised by smaller nations, particularly in the Pacific, about European clubs preventing their players from participating in World Cup tournaments.
He said the IRB recently held a meeting on the issue, attended by representatives from the English and French leagues, and warned clubs they were obliged to release players and could face sanctions if they refused to do so.
However, the IRB chief said it was a difficult issue to enforce, despite assurances from the clubs that they would abide by the regulations and not hold back players from international duties.
“It’s a bit like tax-dodging, there are always going to be around-the-fringes issues,” he said. “Maybe things will happen behind our backs that we can’t quite control. All we can do is make sure that the intentions behind regulation nine are imposed as best as they possibly can be and made as robust as possible.”