World Cup Disappointment: How Our Universities Can Create a Better Future for UK Rugby
Given that this year’s Rugby World Cup was held on British soil, you’d be forgiven for expecting the home nations to have performed a little better, especially the hosts England, who didn’t make it out of the group stage. Scotland were the home nations’ best performer, and came incredibly close to knocking out eventual finalists Australia in the quarter-finals.
There are several reasons why the England team performed so poorly; some of which were purely down to circumstance, and others which require a more considered long-term solution. Firstly, the burden of being the home side was always likely to provoke an extreme reaction from the England team. You sensed it would either be the catalyst for an inspired run to the final or weigh the players down, and unfortunately it turned out to be the latter.
Second, England found themselves in arguably the most difficult group that there has ever been at a Rugby World Cup. Being placed in a group alongside fellow heavyweights Wales and Australia meant that an upset was always on the cards, and the group was ultimately decided in the clashes between those three teams, of which England lost both.
The biggest problem facing England and other home nations however, appeared to be a simple lack of quality, an absence of true world-class performers ready to carry the team and provide the decisive moments regularly associated with past British world cup winners such as Johnny Wilkinson. You’d struggle to name more than a handful of players from the British Isles combined who would make it into New Zealand’s first team. Ultimately, in England’s case, time is on the side of a young current generation, but based on their World Cup showing none of the home nations can be expected to compete for major titles without an influx of quality.
Looking on the bright side, a disappointing showing in a World Cup on home soil could be exactly what is needed to galvanise British rugby into making some grassroots changes which will impact upon success in the years to come.
Aside from the huge financial differences between rugby the UK’s 1st sport of football, there seems to be a surprising lack of grass-root support and activity in the rugby world. In fact, even in terms of public interest and awareness, rugby is far below where it should be if we want to make meaningful changes for the future of the game. In a recent survey it was found that almost half of the UK didn’t even know that the Rugby World Cup was to be hosted in England – a shameful, inexcusable statistic, whichever way you look at it.
More than in any other sport, rugby relies on the comprehensive UK university system to produce talented young players. Glasgow University is no different, often relying on alumni donations to raise money for new facilities and equipment to train the next generation of homegrown stars. It is in universities across the UK that the worldbeaters of tomorrow can be discovered, and it’s up to Rugby’s governing bodies to tap into this resource for the good of the British game going forward.