LONDON: Marketers are well aware of the opportunities presented by the large number of fans who follow the major rugby-playing nations, but new analysis points to a surge of interest among the sport's less dominant countries.

According to research firm Repucom, the level of interest in rugby has risen significantly in Italy, Spain, Thailand, India, Malaysia and the USA – and says this growing fan base will interest the sport's marketing strategists.

Repucom compared the interest levels of fans prior to the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups from 16 countries with teams currently outside of World Rugby's Top 10 rankings.

Interest in Italy soared 11 percentage points ahead of this year's tournament, taking the proportion of Italians who said they were interested in the World Cup to 18% compared to just 7% in 2011.

Similarly, 17% of Malaysians said they are interested, up four percentage points from 13% in 2011, even though the Malaysian team is ranked just 57th in the world.

Meanwhile, interest in Spain has doubled over the past four years from just 6% identifying themselves as fans in 2011 to 12% in 2015.

There has been an uplift in Thailand, too, where interest levels have reached 15%, up five percentage points since 2011, despite the Thai team's 74th-placed world ranking.

Even in cricket-loving India, the proportion of people saying they were interested in rugby rose to 5% from just 1% in 2011, while interest in the USA has grown to 12%.

Although the findings covered global attitudes prior to the current World Cup, the tournament has been electrified by the performance of some of sport's smaller nations – most especially Japan's shock victory over mighty South Africa the weekend before last.

Mike Wragg, global head of market research at Repucom, suggested this could boost the sport's profile in emergent rugby nations and hasten commercial opportunities.

"Japan's win over South Africa on the tournament's opening weekend shone a spotlight on the game's emerging teams and, potentially, regions and markets for commercial growth of rugby itself," he said. "Through this new data, we can see that trend actually take shape."

Data sourced from Repucom; additional content by Warc staff