South Africa’s Rugby World Cup 2019 blitz of Canada another unwelcome reminder of the sport’s inequalities

South Africa 66-7 Canada: The Canadians, who conceded 48 points to Italy and 63 to New Zealand in their opening matches, again found the going tough in Pool B as they shipped 10 tries to the dominant Springboks

Rugby World Cup 2019 in numbers

For all the upsets we’ve been treated to so far here in Japan, South Africa’s 66-7 demolition of Canada was an embarrassing reminder of the gulf in quality that separates rugby’s heavyweights from the so-called ‘Tier Two’ nations. There was no ’spectacle’ to the occasion. No thrilling rugby that drew the crowd from their seats in anticipation and delight at what they were witnessing. Instead, this was a painful walkover that points to a bias-ridden system that favours the ‘haves’ against the ‘have-nots’.

South Africa certainly won’t be fazed by such a result and such a performance. Rassie Erasmus’ men had victory all wrapped up after 17 minutes, having scored four tries by that stage and, more crucially, secured the important bonus point that all-but confirms their place in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup. For them, this was a light-hearted jog on an uncharacteristically cool evening here in Kobe.

But as with so many of the heavy score lines we’ve seen rolled out at this World Cup – New Zealand’s 71-9 the most recent example before this encounter – it leaves us facing a number of hard questions pertaining to the inequalities prevent within the sport. Because, for a tournament that is meant to represent the pinnacle of international rugby, in providing a sparkling platform to showcase the very best of the game, how can it be that matches of this nature continue to rear their ugly heads?

Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi inadvertently touched upon one explanation before kick-off. “We don’t really know what to expect from their individuals, so we will do our own preparations,” he said. Fundamentally, Canada’s ‘unknown’ element stems from a lack of opportunity. The chance for a side like Canada to regularly test themselves against teams of South Africa’s calibre simply doesn’t exist in the international game. The two teams had met just twice before this encounter, with the Springboks predictably coming out on top in both instances. Instead, Canada are expected to hone their trade against nations of a similar standard, thereby ensuring they’re kept firmly within their insulated boxes of mediocrity.

Critics of the World Cup schedule have also pointed to the bias weighted against the Tier Two teams, with a number of the tournament’s lesser sides subject to quick turnarounds that are gruelling and unsustainable in nature. Although South Africa admittedly had four days to prepare themselves for this match after beating Italy 49-3 on Friday, the group stages have, in all, been kinder to the competition’s top dogs.

Then, of course, there’s the financial inequality that continues to plague the game, with wealth seemingly limited to an elite group that, unsurprisingly, dominates the sporting landscape. Calls have been made for fairer distribution of the money generated within the international game and to scrap the existing World Rugby model, with the ‘reciprocal agreement’ that sees cash-poor countries such as Samoa and Fiji expected to foot the bill of touring countries a fine example of the system’s current imbalances. Indeed, there’s a good reason why it’s been 28 years since a team of England’s standing have played Pacific Island opposition without actually setting foot there.

Although the sights of these crushing defeats will never be eradicated from the game – such is its unpredictable, unexpected nature – more needs to be done to create a fairer, flatter playing field for nations like Canada and others to grow and compete on the main stage.

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