Lessons from Japan and Albania
The impressive performance of the so-called minnow nations has been one of the chief talking points at the Rugby World Cup.
Japan has been the headline act with three victories including a stunning upset of South Africa.
No More Minnows
But the common theme has been an improvement across the board by the lesser nations. Gone are the days of the 100-point plus humiliations that the All Blacks used to regularly dish out in World Cup group play. Instead, all countries operate at a level that means, at the very least, opponents have to work hard to create attacking opportunities.
The bigger rugby nations can expect maintaining the status quo only to get tougher in the future. Indeed, the experiences of the big football nations over the last month are a crystal ball to the future of rugby.
The Euro 2016 qualification process has thrown up a range of nations that have not previously qualified on merit.
Iceland, Albania, Austria and Northern Ireland have all qualified for the first time ever, avoiding the playoff system that supports the expanded tournament. Wales are also in directly – the first time they have made it to a major tournament in over 50 years – as is a resurgent Poland.
Meanwhile, in World Cup 2018 qualifying, Australia was rolled 2-0 in Jordan, defeated in Chile and Argentina upset at home by Ecuador.
So why is it that the smaller nations are so much more competitive?
New Zealand has much to be proud of at the Rugby World Cup. The ultimate result of the All Blacks aside, a more telling contribution to the growth of rugby is the role of New Zealand coaches and players to lift the bar in other countries.
Kiwi’s coach 6 nations outside New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup including quarter-finalists Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In addition, 40 New Zealand born players represent other countries including 4 Wallabies. This sharing of expertise has helped to develop the game and improve elite squads.
This is very similar to football with people moving more freely than at any other time in human history around the globe.
Connectivity and Attitude
However, expertise can now travel without the need for a person to travel with it.
While having expertise located in the country helps, access to information has never been more possible than it is today courtesy of broadcast and Internet penetration.
Gone are the days of countries holding all of the knowledge. The movement of people and digital technology now means that if you are committed to learning then all you need is a laptop and Internet connection.
Having the attitude to want to learn also helps. You can bet that people in Japan Rugby and Iceland Football have spent countless hours understanding what other countries were doing well to improve rugby and football respectively in their own countries.
The Population Myth
Finally, the myth of having to have a big population to be successful has again been exploded at the Rugby World Cup.
If population and wealth truly mattered England should just be showing up to win given its vast registered playing numbers and financial resources. Wales should not be able to beat it. Neither should Australia for that matter given rugby union is effectively a distant fourth code in Australia behind AFL, NRL and football and has a low registered player base.
The likes of Iceland, Northern Ireland and Albania (combined population 4.9 million) are testament to the foolishness of population being an excuse in football.
These countries have all shown that by working closely with your best athletes, learning from the best and setting expectations, that anything is possible. A big population does not necessarily mean a winning attitude.
Implications for Top Flight Football Academy
The themes evident in the Rugby World Cup and various national team football qualifiers have reinforced the importance of continuing to utilize the Soccer Italian Style partnership to ensure young players continue to receive excellent, internationally inspired training.
The motivation to continue developing the young players we work with is extremely high. We are convinced that young New Zealand footballers can be as good as any in the world with the right guidance and support.
By continuing to acquire knowledge internationally and build relationships we can help create both individual and national success.
If Albania can make it to major international tournaments, why not us?
“Us vs them and us”, Paul Thomas (NZ Listener, October 17-23 2015 issue)
Share this Post