The gift that will save Australian rugby
Argentina is pulling out of the race to host the 2027 World Cup in order to help Rugby Australia get back on its feet by landing the sport's crown jewel, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.
While the decision on who will host the 2027 and 2031 World Cups won't be made until early 2021, Argentina's surprise withdrawal leaves Australia as the only serious candidate for 2027 after the 2015, 2019 and 2023 tournaments were all awarded to the northern hemisphere.
With South Africa and New Zealand not bidding, Argentina was Australia's only rival from the southern hemisphere but World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot said the South Americans were out.
"We discussed it with Australia and we thought it was not good for us to compete against our partner," he said.
"So we decided to just let Australia run because they also had a stronger project."
Hosting the World Cup is the game changer RA desperately needs to solve its existing financial problems and bankroll the game for the next generation.
RA made a $44 million surplus when it last hosted the RWC in 2003 but the benefits to host countries have grown astronomically since then so the windfall will be massive.
The 2015 RWC, held in Britain, generated $4.7 billion in economic output and attracted over 400,000 international visitors while the 2019 event in Japan generated $6.4 billion and even more foreign visitors.
"From a rugby point of view but also from a general population point of view, it's projects like this which provide a bit of light at the end of a dark tunnel," RA's RWC bid general manager Anthony French said.
Currently under huge financial pressure, RA needs to quickly get its house in order to proceed with its bid as it will require federal and state government support and Pichot, who captained the Pumas against the Wallabies in the opening match of 2003, knows it.
He is aware that RA needs to start generating profits long before 2027 to stay afloat so has relaunched his campaign for the introduction of a new global league as part of his bid to overthrow Bill Beaumont as chairman of World Rugby.
Pichot's previous attempt at trying to establish a 'World Nations Cup' - whereby results from the Rugby Championship, Six Nations and end of season tours would count towards a single league - was rejected because it didn't have unanimous support in Europe.
Played every year outside of the World Cup, the tournament would have pumped $9 billion into the global game over 12 years from 2022, and had the full backing of the other southern hemisphere unions, and Pichot wants a rethink because of the unfolding global economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The mindset of the game needs to change, it needs to be more agile, more responsive, more modern and especially more global and more equal," he said.
"You can't just carry on doing the same copy paste. We need to invest in new markets and bring in other countries to the game, like Japan and the United States, and also start having more meaningful matches in the Pacific Islands."
Under Pichot's original plan, the Six Nations unions, and six southern hemisphere nations; Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Japan and Fiji, would play each other once throughout the year.
At the end of the year, the leader of the northern conference would play the winner of the southern conference in a final while the last-placed nations of each group would play off against the winners of the second-tier competition for promotion and relegation.
That was the concept killer for the weaker Six Nations teams who derailed the proposal but what has led Pichot to challenge England's former captain for World Rugby's top job by pushing for reforms and much needed changes to the Rugby Championship, Super Rugby and women's rugby.
The vote will take place on April 26 with the Six Nations countries all expected to stick with the incumbent Beaumont and the southern hemisphere all siding with the outsider Pichot, leaving the outcome largely in the hands of the developing countries which Pichot has been lobbying for.
"I think it's a great moment in the game to just bring it on," Pichot said.
Originally published as The gift that will save Australian rugby