Gosper hails 'return of the north'
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: November's internationals have witnessed the "return of the north".
This is the view of World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper.
The Southern Hemisphere's top four sides - New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina - provided all the semi-finalists at last year's World Cup in England.
That led to concerns that a gap was emerging between the quartet of Rugby Championship nations and leading countries in the Northern Hemisphere.
But this month has seen Ireland enjoy their first-ever win over New Zealand and defeat Australia, having already beaten South Africa in 2016.
Meanwhile, Italy have claimed a maiden win over the Springboks, with England - unbeaten under Eddie Jones - Scotland and Wales all victorious against Argentina.
England and Australia complete the 2016 international programme for Rugby Union's major nations when they meet at Twickenham this weekend and the World Rugby Chief Executive, Gosper, told AFP: "We've got a very competitive game.
"I think you've seen the return of the north over these past few weeks. You've had some surprises with Italy beating South Africa and the Ireland-All Blacks game [in Chicago where the Irish beat New Zealand 40-29], while England are still undefeated under Eddie Jones.
"The sport is in great shape," Australian administrator Gosper added.
Gosper was speaking as World Rugby, the Dublin-based global governing body for Rugby Union, announced financial results for 2015, with revenue of nearly £345-million (US$430-million, €406-million) generated mainly on the back of the World Cup.
World Rugby said it now expected to put £245.8-million into the game in the next four-year cycle to 2020, surpassing the previous 2013-16 £201 million investment injection by 22 percent.
The results showed a profit for the year £189.5-million, with all funds received from the World Cup to be reinvested in the game through various programmes organised by World Rugby.
"We've now got something close to eight million players worldwide, 30 percent of whom are women," said Gosper. "The fan base is also up to around 300 million."
Gosper attributed some of the increase in the number of Rugby Union's global followers to the impact of this year's inaugural Olympic Sevens tournament, which saw Fiji (men) and Australia (women) win gold medals at the Rio Games.
This week sees the annual World Sevens series get underway in Dubai, with officials keen to develop a second tier of men's teams below the 16-strong elite.
"There may not be as many as 16 in the division below, but there could be promotion and relegation," said Gosper. "It's about extending the footprint of sevens and building on the success we enjoyed in Rio.
"In the few days of the Olympic Sevens tournament alone, we gained around 31 million new fans [according to the Nielsen rating system]."