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Georgia want more Tests for 'minnows'

Mon, 19 Sep 2011 00:00
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Georgia coach Richie Dixon has called for second-tier sides to be given more matches against the game's top nations, saying their performances at the World Cup would justify an expanded fixture programme.

At six weeks' duration, the World Cup has been criticised for being excessively lengthy - the Olympic Games are completed in under three weeks - and it has been suggested the number of sides involved be reduced.

But Dixon, whose Georgia team were only seven points behind England at half-time before losing their World Cup Pool B clash 10-41 in Dunedin on Sunday, said: "I applauded the decision to maintain the 20 [sides competing at the World Cup].

"The IRB [International Rugby Board] have had programmes for these teams between the World Cups and I think we can safely say they have been justified by the performances of these teams.

"They're also justifying why the IRB in particular dug in their heels and said we need to maintain the numbers," former Scotland coach Dixon added.

In the six previous editions of the quadrennial World Cup, the established rugby powers of the Tri-Nations (South Africa, Australia and New Zealand) and their European counterparts (England, Scotland, France, Ireland and Wales) have tended to monopolise the knockout stages.

But the 2007 World Cup in France was notable for both Argentina and Fiji qualifying for the quarterfinals, with Argentina going on to the semifinals where they lost to eventual winners South Africa.

"We need a competition where more people can actually compete, not necessarily just the four or five teams who can win it," Dixon said.

"The football World Cup, for example, off the top of my head there might be nine to 10 teams who on their day could actually win the competition.

"We need to get that, so there is much more interest in it."

Next season Argentina, third in France four years ago, will join the Tri-Nations to form a new Four Nations tournament.

And Dixon said there had to be an increased number of international matches for teams like Georgia, who now have a global reputation for forward play and have several players with leading French clubs, between World Cups if they were to be truly competitive at rugby union's showpiece event.

Previous World Cups have been marred by a series of lopsided pool results, although it is a measure of rising standards that New Zealand's 83-7 thrashing of Japan last week has so far been the only 'blow-out' at this edition.

"The opportunity for teams like Georgia - and let's be fair, Romania, Russia, USA, Canada and Japan, all the other guys - is that we very seldom get the opportunity to play against the big boys," Dixon explained.

"You come to the World Cup and if you're not up to speed, unfortunate things can happen," added Dixon, whose Georgia team next play Romania on September 28.

"We need to find a mechanism where either we play more often against each other or we get opportunities between World Cups to test ourselves against the top guys."

But having seen Italy take some 30 years to turn the Five Nations into the Six Nations, 64-year-old Dixon did not expect Georgia to be joining Europe's premier international rugby union competition any time soon.

He concluded: "The easy answer is to say not in my lifetime."

AFP

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