Theoretically this was the week when rugby entered a brave new world. It has certainly been a momentous-sounding few days courtesy of World Rugby’s historic decision to hold – for men and women respectively – the 2031 and 2033 World Cups in the USA, the tantalising possibility of a sold-out Twickenham for a women’s final in 2025 and renewed optimism about a Nations League tournament finally becoming reality.
At the very least the tectonic plates of the old sport are shifting. Which sport would not relish a primetime World Cup final framed against the Manhattan skyline or access to a land of opportunity for both sexes? It is a universe away from the pie and pint amateur days when a Barbarians Easter tour to Penarth was pretty much the height of cross-border sophistication.
Progress in rugby, though, remains a subjective concept. The sport has been professional for more than a quarter of a century but paying the bills continues to be an issue for almost every union out there. World Cups in Australia in 2027 and 2029 will be spectacular events but the Australian Rugby Union would have gone bust by now without financial assistance from World Rugby. It has been a similar story in the States, where the union filed for bankruptcy as recently as 2020.
Now, we are being told, the sport is on the brink of a gum-shielded gold rush. Twenty five cities from New Orleans to Washington DC have applied to host matches with organisers projecting that 4.1 million spectators could…