15th November 2017, 19:25 | steve_mascord
TONGA’s momentous win over New Zealand on Saturday shows how far we’ve come as an international sport.
Samoa making the quarter-finals on the back of no wins while Ireland go home after two victories shows how far we still have to go.
Wolfhounds captain Liam Finn said after a 34-6 win over Wales in Perth on Sunday that such a scenario is hard to explain to a non-rugby league fan.
The best way to explain it is this: we have a huge disparity in playing talent with the tournament. For commercial reasons, we have to put two of our three leading teams in one pool so they can play each other on TV early doors.
We also want to keep some of the lesser countries away from the big three of Australia, England and New Zealand for as long as possible so that we can stage competitive matches between teams of a similar ability.
Samoa reach the Qtr final despite only picking up one point in the group stage
“In 2013 we had competitive pool matches and then blow-outs in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final,” tournament director Andrew Hill told me.
“I think that this time we’ll have the reverse. The finals will be very close.”
Be that as it may, Ireland went home because they failed to top a group which the tournament structure judges to be inferior to the pool where Samoa finished third. Even those defending Ireland would say they would not be a sure thing of beating Samoa.
But the real problem is this: we still don’t have the talent for two super pools.
We have a big three. If you put two of them in one pool, then it’s fair enough for three teams from that group to progress.
Ireland head home despite winning two out of three games in the group phase
But with only one of the big three in the New Zealand-based pool, logic would dictate only two teams should emerge from that pool. Sure, Scotland went into the World Cup ranked fourth in the world but did anyone seriously expect them to win enough games to get out of their group?
If you take five teams from the first two pools and the winners of the other two, you still have to come up with another quarter-finalist. In 2008 we had a play-off. Perhaps we could have looked at points difference in picking two teams from second in the fourth and fifth pool and third in the New Zealand pool.
It adds a midweek game but it’s fairer.
This is all now a moot point as the 2021 tournament in England will be made up of 16 teams, with presumably four pools. But tournament director Jon Dutton has a job on his hands of satisfying the imperatives above: kicking the tournament off with a blockbuster and minimising the mismatches.
The discussion about Scotland’s rapidly changing fortunes brings me to the argument already coming up about when Tonga becomes a tier one nation.
It’s “nation” folks, not “team”. Scotland didn’t become a superpower by having a good 13 players one year. The tier structure reflects your domestic resources, history in the sport and future prospects.
Tonga will become a tier one nation when people start moving there to give their kids a better life.