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What two World Cup-winning coaches have said about new World 12s

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

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Former All Blacks boss Steve Hansen and ex-Springboks coach Jake White are adamant that they newly launched World 12s is a concept of rugby that isn’t a gimmick and instead presents a golden opportunity for the likes of South African and New Zealand players to earn some extra cash without having to move to clubs elsewhere.


For years the sport at club level in the southern hemisphere has struggled to financially compete with the remuneration packages on offer in Europe and Japan, but both World Cup-winning coaches believe that they World 12 – set to be played for the first time next August in London – offers a three-week window for star players to earn abroad without having to quit their clubs.

Organisers intend for 192 men’s players from tier one and tier two nations to be picked via auction to represent eight franchises consisting of squads of 24 who will be overseen by established coaches – and the long-term aim is to generate £250million over the next five years, while also increasing the global appeal of rugby.

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Player release appears to be the biggest stumbling block for the new concept to succeed as its initial August date would clash with pre-season in Europe and the Rugby Championship in the southern hemisphere. However, Hansen and White reckoned that this problem was surmountable and that World 12s would be popular with the world’s biggest stars.

“The game [XV rugby] has been around for a long, long time – we’re pretty used to it and have probably got a little complacent. World 12s gives us an opportunity to get really excited and move people’s backsides from the back of the seat to the front of it. It’s an exciting concept, to play a game of rugby that is going to be fast, that is about skill. It will encourage big men, little men right across the park. Fans will enjoy that. 

“It’s a really big opportunity to look at something on the laws to make them simpler, easier to understand and work with the rest of the world on that so we can be showcasing those without introducing a whole load of gimmicks – we still want the concept of the (XV) game. And it’s an opportunity for players to be able to rub shoulders with guys that they don’t necessarily rub shoulders with. 


“When they select it will be players from all over the world and it’s a three-week competition. Player welfare has been something we have already talked a lot about to make sure we are not taxing players. It’s a proposal that is really going to change the face of rugby and enhance it as opposed to detracting from it. I’m really excited.”

As is traditionally the case with innovation, the new World 12s idea will be met by a pile of scepticism – including from World Rugby itself – but Hansen reckoned a tournament that he is an ambassador for has two advantages that will be pivotal to making it a success. “There are two things that are going to help it: one is the excitement of the players around the world wanting to be a part of it. 

“You look at 7s and it’s a totally different game. While we call it rugby, it’s a different game whereas this game is going to involve people that are playing the 15-a-side game. It’s not going to be too much different other than a bit more space, opportunity to be more inventive and one or two law changes that we will be able to experiment with. The idea of international players understanding here is an opportunity for us to take our game somewhere else is going to be really huge for the game and they will stand up, unite and say right we want to be part of this. 

“The other thing is it does give so many unions an opportunity to say right, we are losing X, Y and Z players overseas to contracts because they can make some extra money. Well, here is an opportunity. If we let players go just for three weeks they are going to be well managed, their well-being is being talked about and will be agreed upon so why wouldn’t we buy into rather than lose our players to overseas interests when we don’t have to? Those two things are going to be very helpful in pushing it forward.”


Fellow World 12s ambassador White, who will coach the Bulls in this weekend’s Currie Cup final, added: “I echo what Steve says, innovation gives us a change. Golf has been around for a long time and people have spoken about its technology and maybe making par fours longer, but the reality is rugby is never going to change. 

“People have spoken about making the field bigger so we can have 15 players who have got more space but this 12s will have more space. The shape of the game is going to change but the fundamentals of the game are still going to stay the same. What Steve said is right because we don’t want gimmicks. We want to make sure that it’s a way in which we can convince lawmakers of changing the shape of the 15s game as well or change some things in the 15s game that can be introduced in 12s. 

“I am sitting here with a provincial tracksuit on. We lose a lot of players to the northern hemisphere and to Japan with the lure of the yen and the pound and the euro. The stakeholders at the Bulls think one of the ways we can keep our players is we allow them to play in this three-week window where they go and make some money and still show loyalty and long term ambition to stay in a province like the Bulls. 

“I’m very excited. The game needs it. I used golf as an analogy and golf has never changed. Tiger Woods shooting 22 under par is as exciting as watching Jack Nicklaus win the Open many, many years ago. I’m fully behind World 12s.”  


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