Woodward: Test rugby is in decline
4 January, 2018, 12:00 am
RUGBY World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward fears for the competitiveness of international rugby and believes only three teams are capable of winning next year’s tournament in Japan.
Woodward, who guided England to their only Cup glory in 2003, described the recent international window in Europe as “a largely meaningless procession of friendlies”.
“They used to be massive North vs South clashes, a huge buzz around the matches and a chance to play at a level higher than the Six Nations.
“This time there has been far more buzz about the European club games,” Woodward wrote in his regular column for the Daily Mail, suggesting only England vs Australia and Scotland against the All Blacks captured the rugby imagination last November.
“Currently it seems only three countries can realistically lay claims to having what it takes to win a World Cup — New Zealand, England and Ireland.
“That is a disaster for rugby and little different from the Rugby League World Cup.”
Woodward said the development of sevens was “encouraging” for the sport “but World Rugby should be more than concerned with what is happening to the international game”.
“It feels like elite test rugby is contracting, rather than getting bigger,” he wrote.
Woodward signalled alarm at the decline of powerhouse nations South Africa and France and lamented that “nobody is coming through to replace them”.
He felt Georgia needed better assistance to emerge as a true European force and there were ongoing worries for Pacific Islands rugby.
“Samoa, Fiji and Tonga continue to lead a precarious existence and are still resigned to losing many of their best players to predatory nations.
“Teams such as Canada, who used to be strong and competitive, are really struggling.”
Woodward said there was hope in 2018 when New Zealand, who have dominated the rankings for so long and won the last two Rugby World Cups, finally get to line out against Eddie Jones’ improving England outfit who now sit at No 2.
“At least this November, when England finally face New Zealand at Twickenham, we can be confident neither team will be resting anybody.”