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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 15:07 GMT
McDonald defends World Cup
Russia were soundly thrashed by Australia
Russia were soundly thrashed by Australia
The controversial decision to include 16 sides in this year's World Cup has been defended by Australian rugby league chief John McDonald.

Critics believe the current competition has produced too many one-sided matches, including Australia's record 110 points against Russia.

Some Australian critics have even called for the tournament to be reduced to four teams.

But McDonald, the Australian chairman of the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), is in favour of persevering with the current format.

"I think 16 is a good number," he said.

"It does take a fair bit of organisation, and it's quite an expensive exercise, but it gives more people a chance to represent their nation and gives them exposure at a higher level, which is important when you look at goals for the future.

Competitive

"There is no doubt we need to have lead-up games, and more of them, so that when the smaller nations come up against the major forces, they can be competitive."


Unless you play more games it's difficult for players to adjust to the higher standard
  John McDonald

Many sides are concerned about their lack of international experience, with Ireland calling for a home nations tournament and pleas from the Cook Irelands, Fiji and South Africa for more international exposure.

However, moves are in place for a five-year international programme by the RLIF, which would see the Australians tour Britain next year and the next World Cup staged in 2004.

"Obviously some teams are still finding their way, but I believe the countries that have participated have a good future," McDonald said.

"I hope we can programme more games in for them when we programme the Kangaroo tour and other internationals.

"Unless you play more games it's difficult for players to adjust to the higher standard."

Poor attenance

Another criticism has been the poor attendance figures.

South Africa: Want more international exposure
South Africa: Want more international exposure
Last weekend's semi-finals saw a combined crowd of 24,156 compared to 46,650 for the corresponding matches in 1995.

But McDonald defended the figures saying: "It's the biggest event that has ever been put on by rugby league, and I think it's been very successful.

"When you look at the crowds the ones in France were above those expected.

Certainly we would have liked larger crowds, but the conditions haven't been the best.

"A lot of people say maybe there should have been more games played in the heartland area, but I was happy that the first game was played at Twickenham.

"It has all to be reviewed when it's completed. It's easy to say we should have gone here or we should have gone there.

Exposure

"With the magnitude of the competition, there was always going to be room for games to played in other centres - and it has certainly lent itself to exposure in those areas."


Australia are going to come back with a plan for 2004
  John McDonald

McDonald also revealed the World Cup may be held in Australia for the first time in 12 years, despite the lack of enthusiasm for international rugby league in the country.

"Australia are going to come back with a plan for 2004," he said.

"Whether it includes games in New Zealand - which would probably make a lot of sense - remains to be seen.

"There are some clubs who put themselves as first priority - whether they are from New Zealand, Great Britain or Australia - but they are also very aware that we need to have an international presence.

"They are the ones who sign the players on and pay them. They're reluctant to release their players for internationals in the middle of domestic seasons, and I support that.

"You just can't have them disappear for a long period of time during the season."

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See also:

21 Nov 00 |  World Cup 2000
Caisley rules out Home Nations idea
20 Nov 00 |  Wales
League set for five nations
21 Nov 00 |  World Cup 2000
Fittler fights for rugby's underdogs
20 Nov 00 |  World Cup 2000
Sport's unlucky thirteen
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