6 Things Rugby Union Can Learn from the Rugby League World Cup
This year's Rugby League World Cup, which was hosted by England, Wales, Ireland and France, was a roaring success. Australia came out as the winner once again.
According to the tournament's official website, more than two million people tuned in to watch England's final group stage encounter with Fiji, which shows just how far the sport has come in recent years in terms of mass appeal.
So impressive is the league's newfound reach that rugby union may look to learn a few lessons from its sporting cousin. Rugby union can use the competition in an effort to better itself in the meantime.
1. Cross-Border Tournaments Can Go Down a Storm
With Wales, France and Ireland all helping England out with some portion of the hosting duties this autumn, the Rugby League World Cup had a continental feel.
Southern Hemisphere sides—some of whom have never played in certain nations before—got a chance to visit the likes of Cardiff, Limerick, Avignon and Perpignan on top of their northern commitments in what was an all-encompassing change to the venue system.
Having played a similar pan-European edition of the tournament in 1991, the Rugby World Cup isn't strictly unaccustomed to such a structure, but it's a sight that union may decide to revive.
A bigger sample of stadiums makes for bigger numbers, which in turn means more coverage, revenue and overall reach for the sport—although the game would have to be careful not to take too much away from the smaller venues.
2. Legacy Will Benefit from the International Showcase
More so than concentrating solely on the tournament, events of the same magnitude as the Rugby League World Cup can impact the future of the sport and influence the next generation.
Rugby union is by far the more mainstream of the two codes, but the sport still has a further net to cast, with league showing just how effective the efficient promotion of something such as this can be.
In the wake of the London 2012 Olympics, a great deal of focus was put on the Olympic legacy and how Great Britain would benefit in the long run as a result of hosting the event.
Several weeks ago, Debbie Jevans—one of the senior organisers of London 2012—was quoted, per The Guardian's Owen Gibson, as saying that mistakes had been made in their preparations for legacy. One can only hope that, as chief executive of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, mistakes have been learned from.
The same can be said for this year's Rugby League World Cup, with union hoping to see where the tournament has gone wrong and right. It can improve the model as a result of its research.
3. Minnow Powers Benefit Nobody
Despite how entertaining the competition was as a whole, the Rugby League World Cup continues to be a fought between only a handful of nations, and even then only Australia and New Zealand regularly compete for winning honours.
Ireland, Papua New Guinea and Wales failed to take even a single point from their group fixtures, conceding a grand total of 311 points between them in just nine matches combined.
That makes for an average of just more than 34 points conceding by each nation per game in a tournament that saw the minnows act as little more than cannon fodder for the bigger figures of the sport.
It's sometimes difficult to watch a tournament as one-sided (or two in this case) as this one, with finalists almost predetermined when one looks at recent history.
Thankfully, union is grateful to have a healthier sample of competitive teams amongst its elite, but more could be done yet to ensure that the most exciting outcome possible is the result. The key is a thriving mass of top-quality sides.
4. Alcohol Remains a Dangerous Topic
While Hock's axing is officially ruled as a "breach of the disciplinary rules" and Hardaker's reasons were for personal issues, it's speculated that alcohol had something to do with each Englishman not making their way through the tournament.
For decades, alcohol and rugby have been tied together and not always for the worst, but it's an aspect that affects both codes—not always for the better.
Not just for England's stars but for every player involved in the sport, it's essential that any influence of alcohol not be let fall into the overzealous category. Just a few weeks before, Sky Sports reported that Ewen McKenzie had suspended six of his Wallabies for similar offences.
5. Pan-Tournament Television Coverage Is a Must
This autumn, all of England's rugby league games were broadcast by the BBC, as well as the latter stages of the competition and a few select group-stage games involving co-hosts.
However, in what would be a magnificent victory for the "little guy," the target is to get to the point where viewers can choose which games they want to watch—not just a selection but every single encounter.
With all the red-button options and technological feats of modern media, tournaments such as these are here to be celebrated (and watched) in their entirety and not just for a certain few.
6. Sonny Bill Williams Is a Loss to Union
One of the greatest dual-code athletes to have plied his trade across multiple formats, Sonny Bill Williams demonstrated his skill as an attraction once again during these past six weeks.
Lighting up European shores with strong running, heavy collisions and his signature one-handed offloads, the Kiwis star showcased everything that rugby union is now missing.
Having signed a one-year extension with the Sydney Roosters, Williams won't be returning to union for another year, but speculation linking the centre with the Chiefs over the summer had us thinking a comeback was close.
We'll see similar rumours in just under a year's time, as Super Rugby clubs will be keen to offer the talent some lucrative options.