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Ken Borland

Rule-bound IRB criticised for Cyprus exclusion 0

Posted on July 03, 2017 by Ken


The International Rugby Board (IRB) has been accused of being more concerned with rules and regulations than actually growing the game in the wake of Cyprus’s exclusion from the European qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup.

In the last four-and-a-half years, Cyprus have stormed through the lower echelons of European rugby, winning 19 consecutive Tests – more than any other team in the history of the game – on their way to the top of Nations Cup Division 2C (effectively the sixth division).

But their ultimate dream – that of playing in the World Cup qualifiers – has been denied them due to the fact that the tiny, football-mad island does not have enough rugby teams.

Quite how the country – in the midst of a financial crisis much like Greece’s – is meant to develop more rugby teams when the IRB are closing down their opportunities is difficult to fathom.

Cyprus’s problem is that they have less than the four teams (the IRB don’t count the British Army sides based on the island, which is ridiculous) required for associate membership of the IRB. And a country has to be an associate member for at least two years before they can become full members. Only full members are allowed to participate in World Cup qualifiers.

“The IRB certainly don’t want to stand in the way of Cyprus, we will assist them and try to encourage rugby there. We have 117 members so we don’t want to exclude anyone. But the rules are to ensure quality control and they are the criteria agreed by the members,” IRB spokesman James Fitzgerald told the Daily Maverick.

“Cyprus can’t be included in World Cup qualifiers until they’ve been associates for two years and then they have to apply for full member status.

“They don’t fulfil the criteria in terms of the number of teams – for national 15s rugby you need at least four teams. They are moving towards that, but that competition won’t start until September. To be a full member, you need 10 teams.”

Critics of the IRB decision have pointed out that both Greece and the United Arab Emirates were given full membership due to “extenuating circumstances”.

“Greece fulfil the core criteria but have had financial problems, therefore they were given consideration as a special case,” Fitzgerald explained, while the UAE were fast-tracked due to the collapse of the previous Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union and the strategic importance of the region.

These rules don’t take into account the fact that Cyprus rugby is in a stronger state than in countries like Slovenia and Luxembourg, both of whom will take part in World Cup qualifying. Because Cyprus are four levels below serious potential European qualifiers like Georgia, Russia, Romania and Portugal, there is little chance of them keeping anyone out of the showpiece event, but they should at least be allowed to chance their arm at the highest level of the game.

The qualifiers start in four days’ time on May 4 so even if the IRB relent in the face of public pressure and give Cyprus membership, it is probably too late for them to take part in the 2015 tournament.

The IRB will be meeting this week and South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins, who is the vice-chairman of the IRB, believes the game’s governing body can make exceptions to their rules.

“There’s a crucial meeting and I’m certain it will be up for discussion. Cyprus form a part of Fira, the European governing body, and they do have a representative in the council, Octavian Morariu, a Romanian.

“Countries can be exempt from the regulations if there are extenuating circumstances. Every law can be bent, I like to think, if there’s a very good case for it,” Hoskins told the Daily Maverick.

“We’ve made exceptions before in South Africa, for instance with clubs that didn’t have five teams but their rugby was so good that we let them play in the premier leagues. Some clubs have so few players, but because of the quality of those players they should not be penalised.

“If countries make a good case, a compelling argument, then rugby’s attitude is pragmatic,” Hoskins said.

“The Cyprus Rugby Federation regrets that the IRB has taken this decision which we believe will have severe and detrimental effects on Cyprus rugby, especially due to the economic and continuous crisis that has affected the nation recently,” Lawrence Vasiliades, the president of the CRF, said.

Hopefully a plan can be made because rugby will certainly be the loser if one of the great fairy tales of the game’s history is allowed to wither away, denied the chance to compete on the highest stage. Cyprus in the World Cup qualifiers would be a wonderful advertisement for the IRB’s efforts to develop the sport all over the world.

IRB’s T.O.P. programme ensures it’s onwards & upwards for rugby 0

Posted on August 18, 2014 by Ken

Friday’s presentation at the IRB’s Talent Optimisation Programme in Stellenbosch was entitled “Where Is Rugby Going?” and it’s a safe bet that it is going onwards and upwards in many countries thanks to courses such as this one.

The Talent Optimisation Programme is into its ninth edition and it was hosted for the eighth time by the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, about 50km east of Cape Town and situated in an historic rugby centre. It targets coaches, trainers and match officials from the Tier 2 nations who don’t have their own high performance programme.

This year’s course had 34 participants from countries like Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Romania and Russia, but was also attended by delegates from Argentina and Scotland.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) are highly supportive of T.O.P. and this year the participants enjoyed a rare treat when Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer and his management team gave a presentation on their plans for next year’s World Cup.

“Both the quality of input – the presenters we had – and the application of the delegates were absolutely wonderful and it was a big week for them. We had 12 coaches, eight match officials and four of their coaches, and 10 strength and conditioning trainers attending. All these guys have come through the IRB educational pathways, levels one to three, and this was like a finishing school for them,” Mark Harrington, the IRB head of technical services, said.

“Saru have been brilliant, providing all their coaching staff, including Heyneke Meyer, and Nick Mallett and Mark Lawrence were also heavily involved. The feedback we received was hugely positive, especially Heyneke’s presentation, while Nick got them really thinking around the current preferred style of play in rugby. He even predicted what would happen to the Sharks five days before the game!”

Other countries represented at T.O.P. were Tonga, Singapore, Portugal, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, USA, Mexico, Uruguay and Spain and all the participants have significant experience and qualifications which just need to be polished in a high-performance environment.

The course was run under the watchful eyes of ex-Scotland coach Richie Dixon, former Wales lock Phil Davies, Steph Nel of the Western Province Institute, Bernd Gabbei, the IRB referee development consultant, Des Ryan, the head of sports medicine and athletic development at the Arsenal Academy, and Liam Hennessy, Ireland’s former head of fitness.

The uprising of enthusiasm within the delegates was noticeable and there is no doubt they will return to their countries eager to impart the knowledge they have obtained at T.O.P.

“It’s one of the best courses I’ve ever been to and I can’t wait to pass on the knowledge from here to other coaches back home. It was phenomenal what I learnt in terms of technique, tactics and administration too,” Kevin Mwema, a Kenyan high performance coach said.

His compatriot, Michael Owino, is a strength and conditioning coach in the national sevens programme, and he expressed similar sentiments.

“It was a great week, learning day in, day out, from someone like Liam Hennessy, who trained guys like Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell. He’s one of the best guys to get the knowledge from and I can’t wait to get home to share it all. With the kind of knowledge I now have, I can change mindsets and ensure we have the right culture in our teams,” Owino said.

“That knowledge-sharing aspect is very important and once the course is done, we will have points of further contact with the participants if they need further support. It’s all about info sharing,” Harrington said.

The strength of the T.O.P. is that the IRB have ensured that they have high-quality presenters – ex international coaches like Jake White, Mallett, Gert Smal, Alistair Coetzee, Pieter de Villiers and Jacques Nienaber, former Test stars like Brendan Venter, Rassie Erasmus and David Campese, leading sports scientists like Professor Tim Noakes and Ross Tucker, top referees such as Steve Walsh, Craig Joubert, Jaco Peyper and Lawrence, and even leadership and high performance development author Rasmus Ankerson of The Goldmine Effect.

“We have a specific focus on getting the big guns to come and speak, it’s really important that they are current experts and people that the participants can really learn from. We have twice as many applicants as we have space for and it’s really encouraging to see the depth across the Tier 2 nations,” Jock Peggie, the IRB training manager said.

That can only be good news for the future of rugby and its expansion across the globe.


Matfield comeback stopped by IRB law 0

Posted on May 28, 2012 by Ken

The International Rugby Board’s anti-doping regulations have put paid to the potential comeback of former Springbok captain Victor Matfield, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) admitted on Thursday.
New Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was considering Matfield, a veteran of 110 tests and the driving force behind their powerful lineout, for the three-test series against England next month, despite the 35-year-old announcing his retirement after last year’s World Cup.
With the series happening in the middle of the SuperRugby season, Meyer has little chance to work with his team, which will feature several new faces following the retirement of long-time captain John Smit, injuries to flanks Schalk Burger and Juan Smith, and the migration of stalwarts such as scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, centre Jaque Fourie, utility forward Danie Rossouw and prop Gurthro Steenkamp to overseas clubs.
Meyer is also facing a dilemma over who to appoint as captain because the frontrunner, Burger, has been ruled out of the England series due to a knee injury. The former Bulls coach previously hinted that Matfield could return to steer the team through the transitional period.
But an IRB rule stating that a player who has announced his retirement may not play international rugby for six months after his comeback has ruled out Matfield’s return.
The regulation is used by the IRB to prevent players who have used banned substances from suddenly retiring and then returning to the game once the drug is out of their system.
“We have discussed the option, but the International Rugby Board’s regulations counted against us,” Saru chief executive Jurie Roux told Reuters on Thursday.
“We would be keen to use Victor’s outstanding knowledge and have not ruled out the option of using it in some other way in the future.”
Matfield is acknowledged as the foremost student of lineout play in the game and is currently employed as an analyst by broadcasters SuperSport.
“I did want to play an experienced side, but a lot of players are not available,” Meyer said on a BBC radio interview this week. “There’s a big concern about the lack of time we have to train together. That’s why it’s difficult to pick a side because there will be injuries after those derbies. It’s not an ideal situation but you can’t make excuses,” he said.

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