The International Rugby Board needs to distribute more resources to tier-two nations in order to foster the growth of Rugby Union around the world in the coming years, says Brian Hightower, Universal Sports analyst and former captain of the USA Eagles, who competed in the 1999 World Cup.
Historically, Hightower says, the IRB tends to give more financial support to “better teams when the opposite is needed.”
“I hope at the end of this World Cup, the IRB sees that in order to grow the sport,” it needs to invest more money into tier-two nations.
Hightower will be in New Zealand this week covering the World Cup as an analyst for NBC Universal. The games will be streamed at universalsports.com (for a subscription fee).
“The Kiwis have the easiest way to the Semi Finals,” Hightower says of the No. 1 ranked New Zealand All Blacks, who face Argentina in the fourth quarter-final on October 9. The All Blacks will win the World Cup, in Hightower’s opinion, because they have “too much to play for.”
According to Hightower, success for the All Blacks rests on “their flankers and pack” and whether or not No. 8 Kieran Read “can regain his form from the Tri Nations Tournament” a few months ago.
The winner will play either South Africa or Australia, who meet in the third quarterfinal on October 9 as well.
“On any given day, it depends on which Australia shows up,” says Hightower. He will have his eye on Australian back Quade Cooper, a flash player who takes a lot of risks.
“It will be interesting to see how he performs at fly out against the Springboks.”
As for the other side of the bracket, which sees four teams from the Six Nations going head-to-head, Hightower believes it “is a complete roll of the dice.”
Ireland will play Wales in the first quarter-final, and England will play France in the second quarter-final, both matches on October 8.
Hightower says England will win a spot in the their second consecutive World Cup final and face New Zealand for the Web Ellis Cup on October 23.
“Though I don’t think we’ve seen the best of France yet, I think they’re hiding some of their talent.”
“At the end of the day, it bodes well for the public” being able to see England play France. There is “no love lost between those two,” according to Hightower.
As for the defending champion South Africa Springboks, Hightower will be watching to see if their aging yet “intimidating duo” of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Batha “can endure three games” and win their second consecutive World Cup.
Hightower thinks the Springboks showed their age in this summer’s Tri Nations tournament, where they were forced to repeatedly fiddle with their lineup due to injuries, and as a result, never started their strongest fifteen. Hightower says South Africa may have been sandbagging.
“I wish they would have come out and said they were old and needed some rest.”
This year’s quarter-finals are nearly identical to the quarter-finals of 2007, with the exception of Ireland and Wales replacing Fiji and Scotland.
When Hightower was asked if rugby fans could expect to see some minnows challenging the traditional powers in the 2015 World Cup, he said: “Within four years’ time it would be a big surprise to see any of those tier-two teams rise into the top eight.” But “within eight years we could see some things start to shift.”
As for the future of the United States in international rugby, Hightower thinks that “until kids are running around with a rugby ball, wanting to be Todd Clever, we will lag behind the top nations.”
NBC Universal will air semi-final matches on October 15 and 16, the bronze final on October 21 and the finals on October 23. Additional information can be found at http://www.indemand.com/events/, and streaming at http://www.universalsports.com/rugby/.
Chris Carson is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes within this article were obtained first hand from an interview with Brian Hightower.