AAustralian rugby has been given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalize the game in this country with the prospect of hosting back-to-back men’s and women’s World Cups for only two years apart. In a tremendous fillip for the game, Australia was on Monday named the preferred candidate to host the women’s World Cup in 2029, along with the men’s tournament in 2027.
The dual World Cups have put Australia in a superb position to capitalize on the enormous global popularity of rugby, with the potential to deliver a much-needed financial boost. But it is an opportunity Australian rugby cannot afford to fumble as poor performances in the home tournaments would be disastrous for the game.
The Wallabies are currently ranked sixth in the world, just one place above their lowest-ever position, and are well behind the likes of the All Blacks, France, South Africa and even England as favorites to win the 2023 World Cup in France.
Australian rugby fans will be hoping the Wallabies can turn things around next year, but there is certainly enough time to build a winning team for 2027.
Hosting the World Cup will help Australia to create a potential champion Wallabies team. by enabling Rugby Australia to secure lucrative sponsorships and an improved broadcast deal in the lead-up to the showpiece event. A significant increase in revenue would help RA to retain and recruit talent for the 2027 World Cup campaign.
At present there are almost as many Australians playing professional rugby overseas as there are in Australia, including several high-profile Wallabies such as second-rower Rory Arnold, center Samu Kerevi, winger Marika Koroibete and five-eighth Quade Cooper.
A tweak to the so-called Giteau Law means coach Dave Rennie will be allowed to select three eligible overseas-based players for the 2023 World Cup. But if RA was capable of generating more income in the lead-up to the 2027 World Cup, Australia may be able to bring back required Wallabies from overseas to play Super Rugby and keep other players from leaving, making the Giteau Law redundant.
It is also possible for some players to choose to play in Australia to improve their chances of playing in a home World Cup, which would be a career highlight for many. Extra money in the coffers would also give RA the chance to poach a high-profile rugby league player or two who could possibly add value to the Wallabies.
Hosting the women’s World Cup two years later has the potential to drive enormous growth in the game, after it has taken Australia’s football codes a long time to realize that women make up 50% of the population. The A-League, AFL, NRL and Super Rugby all boast women’s leagues, but Australia’s national women’s rugby team are virtually invisible. The Wallaroos have competed in the women’s World Cup since 1998, finishing third in 2010, but only diehard fans would be aware.
A successful home World Cup could dramatically enhance the Wallaroos’ public profile and potentially put them on a pedestal with the Matildas and the Australian women’s cricket team.
The USA hosted and won the 1999 women’s Fifa World Cup, leaving a wonderful legacy for football in America. The Wallaroos have the opportunity to do something similar for women’s rugby in Australia in 2029.
They are currently ranked fifth in the world, one place better than the Wallabies, but their problem is they rarely play Test rugby. Hosting in 2029 should begin to attract more international women’s teams to Australia to prepare for the event, lifting their profile.
The Wallaroos have never enjoyed the same kind of success as their Australian sevens counterparts, but they can learn from their experience in the Olympic Games. When Tim Walsh was appointed coach of the women’s sevens side in 2013, he actively recruited athletes from other sports to build the 2016 Olympic gold medal-winning team.
If the Wallaroos can gain a higher profile and secure more sponsorship dollars, they may be in a position to emulate the sevens program and recruit players from other sports to give the team a real chance of success in 2029.
It is imperative both the Wallabies and the Wallaroos are at their absolute best when the world’s focus is on Australia. Anything less than reaching the semi-finals of the tournaments on home soil would be viewed as monumental failures, especially for the Wallabies, and would be counter-productive.
RA must also be careful that any multi-million windfalls generated by the two tournaments are not squandered like the bonanza from Australia’s hosting of the 2003 men’s tournament.
The Jonny Wilkinson field goal in extra-time downed the Wallabies in the 2003 final in Sydney but then Rugby Australia failed to invest a $ 44m windfall in a future fund, which would have safeguarded the game and helped it to grow. Sadly, the game in Australia declined, but it has now been given a double-sided chance to revive itself.