Written by: Arnold Geerdts
The question that left me pondering in the second week of the tenth Rugby World Cup tournament is whether it is really wise to include teams like Romania, Tonga, Namibia and Uruguay in the spectacle.
This past weekend we again saw these teams suffer humiliating defeats in some cases by more than 60 points. One of these was South Africa’s 76-0 thrashing of Romania on Sunday. New Zealand thrashed Namibia 71-3.
Is it fair to sacrifice these teams like this simply to give the top countries more chance to play?
It is already clear before the game to a large extent who will walk away with the laurels. The only point for debate is how big the score difference will be. Surely it cannot be healthy for a country like Romania or Namibia’s young rugby players to see their heroes crushed like this.
I still well remember how I felt as a 12-year-old boy when the visiting team gave us a proper beating and I stood with my head hanging under the posts while the opposition’s fly-half once again drove the ball through the posts to score another painful try. . That humiliation and deep feeling of “we’re just not good enough” is still fresh in my memory after more than 40 years.
Is this how the players from these so-called “smaller rugby countries” feel? Or is it enough of a reward for them just to qualify to be able to play in the World Cup and measure themselves against the Goats, All Blacks and the Roosters?
I also wonder if it benefits the better teams in any way to play against a team that is in no way a match for them. I doubt if the Boks and their coaches really learned anything of value from their game against Romania. Isn’t it really just a waste of energy to get all the players sufficiently pumped up for a game whose outcome they can already predict? Then we are not even talking about the risk of sustaining a serious injury during such a match.
Perhaps the solution lies in having a second level of competition, where weaker teams can measure themselves on a strength-against-strength basis. Something like a plate tournament that is played simultaneously with the stronger countries’ competition. The two top teams then get the chance to move up in this format with the next World Cup and play against the stronger teams.
In some American sports there is also the so-called “mercy rule”. If the score goes over a certain mark, the game is stopped. A technical knockout, as it were. Would that not perhaps also be an option for our teams?
Somewhere we have to start thinking how ethical it really is to humiliate the other team like that. Doesn’t World Rugby perhaps have an obligation to protect these teams against such massive scores?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I know that if I were a father of one of the Romanian players at the World Cup, I would at least be very sad to see my son lose like that.