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4 days ago
The four home nations in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup was one area of the competition which received a lot of complaints by both the fans and media of the code, however that is not a reason why the concept should be thrown away for the 2008 tournament.
Looking at the scenario leading up to the 2000 tournament was there little reason why the four nations concept struggled? Ireland, Wales and Scotland had played limited warm up matches prior to the tournament, in fact outside of some low key internationals, those three nations had barely shown any indication they were part of the Rugby League community.
The players they drew upon had no connection to the squads before the tournament, and there was little evidence that those players would continue to have any connection after the event. They came across manufactured, un-marketed teams, and as a result struggled for creditability (outside of the Welsh who drew their largest crowd for an international since World War II).
Added to that the three regions had very little in terms of juniors. Rugby League had not yet kicked off again in Ireland, Scotland had its small amateur competition running for only a few years, and Wales could only boast one team that participated in a regular competition which further affected the teams creditability.
The failure of a combined Great Britain and Ireland side down-under in 1999 didn?t help the confidence of fans either with many feeling that if a combined side would struggle, a split side would do worse.
So with all these faults why should the home nations be even concerned for the 2008 tournament? I think the answer is quite simple, times have changed. Come 2008, the European Nations Cup tournament will be entering its 6th year of competition, Ireland, Wales and Scotland on the international stage will not be unknown entities. Junior numbers in the three regions are on the rise, and as for the top level competitions, in 2004 alone Wales has increased from 1 team that participates in regular competition to 8, whilst Ireland has gone from 0 in 2000 to having upwards to 18 teams this year.
A growing number of Irish and Welsh born and bred players have started gaining positions in National League teams in Britain and television ratings in those regions are also on the rise. By 2008 this grow will hopefully have continued at a similar rate further emphasising the need for these regions to have their own representation.
Also isn?t it time that England gets a chance to truly stand on its own feet? The level of talent coming through in England at the moment is the best for nearly 40 years, as shown recently by England A?s results. Now by 2008 the region will be in an even stronger position, meaning in a combined side either some of these players who deserve the chance to play on a World Cup stage will either miss out, or cause they do get a position, someone from Wales or Ireland misses out.
Finally add to the fact the type of culture you are trying to appeal to in Australia, you will have better luck getting Australians to turn up and put their support behind the likes of Ireland, than you would a Great Britain and Ireland side.
The one key to making this all work however is making players stick loyal. If someone turns up for Ireland in 2004 then they should stay loyal to Ireland, from 2004 till the end of their representative career. People from nations will get behind players, even if they aren?t born in that nation, if they play with pride and passion for that nation. That has been shown in Australia who out of anywhere in the League community does not need to draw from external sources for its national side, yet in the years added guys like Fulton, Dymock, Tuqiri and Civenociva to name a few (the true list is quite significant that it may surprise some), but cause these guys played with their hearts on their sleeves people turned up to games, or put their television sets on and did not complain about them being in there.
Iestyn Harris has captured the minds of the people of Wales in both codes of Rugby, despite the fact he was born and bred in Oldham cause he puts his all in every match, and does not try and swap nations at the drop of a hat. If more players were like that, then they may draw that same respect, and in many cases it is important for the national authorities in consider that loyalty and long term building aspect as part of their selections for the next few years.