LEVEL PLAYING FIELD: Mind the gap! Tier two rugby nations crave more, better fixtures against elite squads

LEVEL PLAYING FIELD: Mind the gap! Tier two rugby nations crave more, better fixtures against elite squads

Portugal’s sensational last-gasp victory over Fiji for their first World Cup win on Sunday was one of the moments of the tournament but the economic realities of the game mean such upsets are destined to remain a rarity.

For all the delights that Portugal, Uruguay and Chile served up over the Pool stage with their expansive rugby, eight usual suspects were safely lodged in the quarter-final berths come Monday morning.

Closing the gap between the traditional powers and the tier two nations has long been an avowed aim of a game which is strong and healthy in its heartlands but has struggled to expand them.

Manuel Leindekar of Uruguay, tier two nation

Manuel Leindekar of Uruguay offloads the ball during his team’s Rugby World Cup match against New Zealand at Parc Olympique on 5 October, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo: Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Portugal, the last team to qualify for this tournament, are the archetype of a tier two rugby nation with their best players at clubs overseas and the rest playing semi-professional rugby at best.

They showed in France what improvements can be made with two months of proper training and decent coaching but the key factor, according to pretty much every tier two nation at the World Cup, is regular fixtures against the elite.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup showcases the brilliance and struggle of tier-two nations

“Uruguay and Chile showed great skills, Pablo Lemoine did a great job with Chile, but everybody knows that in rugby you need to play against high-level teams to flourish,” Portugal’s French coach Patrice Lagisquet said after the victory.

Patrice Lagisquet

Portugal Head Coach Patrice Lagisquet. (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“But we have to face an economic reality, the top nations cannot afford to play against developing nations two, three, four games in a row, and that’s what the developing nations need.”

Lemoine made the case more forthrightly after his Chile side, the lowest-ranked team at the tournament, were thrashed 71-0 by England.

“When we come here we

…. to be continued
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