The four-team series that would have fans salivating
That was on the back of their first-ever visit to the quarter-finals.
In contrast, it wasn’t until Argentina managed a third-place finish at the 2007 event that talks really ramped up regarding Los Pumas’ addition to a tier-one competition – and their introduction to the Rugby Championship didn’t come until 2012.
The likes of Fiji, Samoa and even Canada have also all made it to the best-of-eight round of rugby’s showpiece tournament through the years without there ever developing any promises or greater competition with the tier-one nations of the world.
Meanwhile, Italy has been entrenched in the Six Nations since the turn of the millennium, despite never making it out of the pool rounds of the World Cup.
In 22 years of trying, they’ve mustered just 12 victories, emphasising that frequent top-level fixtures isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to success.
That’s not to say that all the above teams don’t deserve to play regular tests against the likes of New Zealand, England and South Africa, however, just that it would be unreasonable to expect Japan or Fiji to up to their game to the point where they could immediately compete with the top sides in the world simply because they were suddenly incorporated into the Rugby Championship.
Italy and Argentina have both struggled in their respective competitions – as well as in their other one-off tests – and the same would likely be true for Fiji and Japan.
Despite besting Ireland and Scotland at the most recent Rugby World Cup, the Brave Blossoms have now suffered three defeats from their last four games, going down to the Lions in Edinburgh and Ireland twice in Dublin (including the most recent 60-5 thrashing). They only just managed to scrape past Portugal last weekend, who haven’t featured at a World Cup since 2007 and likely won’t again anytime in the near future.
The challenges keep coming for Japan, who are banging on the door of the Rugby Championship but likely still need to prove they can compete week-in, week-out against the best in the world. #RugbyJP #BraveBlossoms #IREvJPN
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) November 5, 2021
Getting up in front of your home fans when you’ve had months and months of preparation is evidently very different to playing away from home or even on level footing with your opposition.
While Fiji and Japan certainly need to be squaring up with tier-one teams more regularly than they currently are, they’ll continue to be on the wrong end of some lopsided scorelines unless they can be eased into the top-flight competitions.
The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any in-between option. There’s a big difference between the top tier-two sides and the middle-rung tier-one sides, which means thrashing would be inevitably with any major changes to competitions.
A one-off series between the sides that are sitting on the cusp of tier-one and tier-two rugby would make for a fascinating watch, however.
Argentina, Italy, Japan and Fiji all look to be on roughly equal pegging at present – with Argentina slightly ahead, perhaps – but instead of Japan increasing their fixtures against any of the other three sides, they’re now set to play a three-match series with France next year.
Argentina and Japan have faced off just twice over the past two decades, with Los Pumas winning both matches by 30 points.
Fiji and Argentina, meanwhile, have gone to battle just four times in total, with the last clash coming at the 2003 World Cup where Argentina managed a 19-point win to avenge their loss at the 1987 tournament.
Italy have played ‘regular’ fixtures against Japan and Fiji, winning five of their seven games against the former, and six of their 11 against the latter, with the past four against both nations being shared two apiece.
In 2013, South Africa hosted a quadrangular tournament during the mid-year test window, inviting Italy, Scotland and Samoa to the republic for three weekends of test rugby. While Argentina and Japan have already locked in their matches for next July, a four-team tournament involving them, Italy and Fiji would attract plenty of attention, given the final outcome would be difficult to predict.
While Argentina would certainly enter the competition as favourites, there wouldn’t be any foregone results and the tournament would give all four nations the chance at silverware – something they really have the (realistic) opportunity to play for.
World Rugby evidently have indicated they have an appetite for more ‘meaningful’ matches and nothing makes a game more meaningful than it being a closely-fought affair. That’s exactly what we could expect to play out with the above four teams involved.
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