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Is the slumbering giant of the north finally waking up?

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

154 Have your say

Popular article! 5,208 reads

    First there was Eddie, engineering England’s 13-match unbeaten run in 2016. Then there was Ireland, handing the All Blacks their worst beating since 2012 in Chicago.

    With the Springboks also enduring their biggest slump in living memory – maybe the nadir of their entire rugby history – there looks to be an inviting opportunity for the Northern Hemisphere to finally stake its claim, and make it stick.

    Does this apply at the level below international rugby? The situation is complex.

    Leicester Tigers have recently sacked their coach, Richard Cockerill, a dyed-in-the-wool Leicester man, after a philosophical power-struggle with ex-All Black Aaron Mauger.

    Other English clubs have also turned to Southern Hemisphere coaching expertise to make progress – for example, Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson replacing Mike Ford at Bath – or they have recruited top Southern Hemisphere backs to fast-forward expansion of their playing styles, to wit Kurtley Beale, Charles Piutau and Willie le Roux at Wasps, Matt Toomua at Tigers and Nick Evans at Harlequins.

    There has been a cost. With the private ownership model of the English Premiership, many teams still struggle with the burden of debt on their backs. European champions Saracens filed an annual loss of £4m last year and carry an overall debt of £45m which is covered by their parent company and its South African stakeholders.

    Wasps made a loss of £2.4m, Bath’s came in at £1.8m. The path to profitability winds through the darkness of an unknown future, and depends heavily the loyalty of rich benefactors like Bruce Craig and Derek Richardson. Before Richardson took over Wasps back in 2013, the club was heading towards administration and the loss of its professional status.

    Another group of clubs have taken the opposite view. Exeter Chiefs, who I spotlighted in an article a couple of weeks ago, have eschewed the up-front debt, repay-it-later model and built from the ground up, staying firmly within their financial means and building progressively. The grapevine whispers say Nic White will be joining the Chiefs at the end of the current season to join the corps of seven Australians already at the club.

    Over in Ireland, the model is far closer to Exeter than it is to Bath, Wasps or Saracens. The IRFU has a contractual stake in the top 15-20 players in the country, and the number of foreign players allowed across the main three provinces (Ulster, Leinster and Munster) is capped at 15, or one per position. This ensures the exposure and development of home-grown talent, and provincial rugby has had to grow from within, without the steroidal supplements.

    Leinster are a stereotypical case. As multiple European cup winners a few seasons ago, they boasted top overseas talents like Brad Thorn, Rocky Elsom, Kane Douglas, Lote Tuqiri, Nathan Hines and Felipe Contepomi. Now they’ve trimmed back their expenditure on foreign imports and their squad contains no overseas stars at all. The highest-profile import, ex-Springbok full-back Zane Kirchner, is now in the twilight of his career at 32 years of age.

    They pulled off what has proven to be a major coup with the appointment of Stuart Lancaster as senior coach last September. Stuart did not waste his time after he was sacked by the RFU for the World Cup disappointment in 2015. He was particularly keen to explore possibilities in the Southern Hemisphere, both in terms of coaching roles and ‘conversing’ with the Southern Hemisphere mindset on rugby.

    England rugby coach Stuart Lancaster

    Over his many missions to the other side of the globe, he has engaged with figures as diverse as Wayne Smith, Steve Hansen, Brian Lochore, Bob Dwyer, Wayne Bennett, Michael Maguire and Stephen Kearney. He has the humility to travel to broaden his rugby mind and in this sense he is atypical of the Northern Hemisphere coaching mentality.

    When Leinster signed him, they were taking on a coach determined to bring Southern Hemisphere principles to bear on a predominantly youthful squad and that has been a terrific bonus. They have the best of both worlds – a squad based on developing local talent with a coach determined to instil the best of rugby knowledge from around the world in them.

    Lancaster’s addition has galvanised an already excellent management/coaching group composed of Director Leo Cullen, John Fogarty and Girvan Dempsey and given it a new focus.

    Munster, Ulster and Connacht are treading the same path with Rassie Erasmus, Les Kiss and Pat Lam at the top of the tree and only two real international stars (Charles Piutau and Ruan Pienaar at Ulster) between them.

    I believe that for rugby in the Northern Hemisphere, the Exeter/Leinster model is more organic and sustainable in the long-term than speculative private ownership. There are many more variables and far fewer guarantees in the second course. Apart from the treacherous notion of predicting future financial good health some way off in the future while accepting massive debt in the short-term, everything depends on the goodwill of a benefactor who can, at any point, choose to cut his losses and walk away.

    This is exactly what happened in Welsh rugby around 2004-2009, and the Welsh regions are still trying to recover.

    The impact of the coupling of a vibrant and youthful local squad and a Southern Hemisphere coaching outlook has been marked at Leinster, nowhere more so than in the two games against Northampton in the middle of the Champions Cup group stage. Leinster beat their perennial English rivals by a combined score of 97-23 over the two matches, scoring 14 tries to two.

    In the second encounter at the RDS stadium, they kept the ball in hand like a good New Zealand or Australian side, making 188 passes and building 113 rucks, and their attacking pattern bears the imprint of Stuart Lancaster’s experience in New Zealand.

    Here are some examples of Leinster in action against the Saints:

    Nowhere is the Kiwi influence more visible than in the play and expectation revolving around the position of hooker. Leinster have two hookers in the form of established international Sean Cronin and young back-up James Tracy, who are equivalent to Dane Coles in the Southern Hemisphere. They play in the wide 15-5 metre channels and (like Coles) they are expected to contribute creatively on attack.

    Cronin’s run, footwork and offload in the opening sequence illustrates his sheer enjoyment and facility with ball in hand, and his finish in the second shows him deployed in the traditional Crusaders pattern with the hooker out wide as a finisher/distributor. When Leinster go wide-to-wide in three phases from scrum in their own half, Tracy plays the same role at 60:12, making the critical break out wide before delivering the inside pass to his support (Leinster scored four phases later).

    The coaching framework puts the Leinster forwards under pressure to both make decisions and run and pass accurately:

    In this long attacking phase-string it all comes together. In the course of the sequence, the Leinster forwards; receive 12 passes, take contact on nine occasions, produce six dominant runs or quick rucks and make two offloads (by Sean O’Brien at 42:06 and 42:27).

    All without making any errors. It gives a taste of the way European rugby needs to evolve if it is to keep pace with the game in New Zealand especially. Whether the speculative private ownership model has the stability in the long-term to encourage this growth remains an open question.

    In the meantime, the organic model in Ireland and down at clubs like Exeter in the UK will continue to advance steadily, to the point where one day, financial speculation may no longer be necessary to sustained success.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick’s latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled “The Iron Curtain”. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (154)

    • Roar Guru

      January 11th 2017 @ 4:18am
      Harry Jones said | January 11th 2017 @ 4:18am | ! Report

      Really enjoyed this article, NB. Bonus points for using ‘nadir.’ But I think the nadir is still in the future. Maybe this year.

      Speaking of Rassie Erasmus’ Munster, do you think CJ Stander is in the picture for a single-digit Lions jersey this year?

      • Columnist

        January 11th 2017 @ 6:32am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 6:32am | ! Report

        Yes Harry, I have a special liking for both “nadir” and “apogee”.

        Re: Stander – definitely. If the Lions back-row was chosen tomorrow, my best guess is that it would be Stander at 6, Billy Vunipola at 8 and Sam Warburton at 7.

        Any hints of improvements with SA this year?

        • January 11th 2017 @ 12:40pm
          Bakkies said | January 11th 2017 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

          The elephants in the room are Gatland’s loyalty to Welsh players selection wise, tactics and injuries with five months left in the season. As coach of Wales and Ireland he has yet to come up with a game plan that can last 80 minutes against NZ. When his teams do match NZ it lasts about 60 minutes or so than the ABs put the foot down.

          • January 11th 2017 @ 2:06pm
            Jacko said | January 11th 2017 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

            Bakkies thats every team in world rugby. Ireland and wales no different to all other nations in not being able to hold NZ for 80mins. Ireland did it once in 100 years this year. No one else did

            • Roar Guru

              January 11th 2017 @ 5:18pm
              Hoy said | January 11th 2017 @ 5:18pm | ! Report

              I actually think Gatland has been kept too long for Wales. He had great success, then over the last few years, has been a little disappointing, with then not kicking on at all. Or is that just me?

              • Columnist

                January 11th 2017 @ 6:55pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

                Aye Hoy, ten years and that is an incredibly long time in pro rugby at the top… And the team under him hasn’t changed much until very recently.

          • Columnist

            January 11th 2017 @ 6:53pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 6:53pm | ! Report

            I agree Bakkies. Although Wales played well in the summer series against the AB’s, I still feel that complete conviction in the new game-plan is lacking. I don’t know whether that comes from him, or Shaun Edwards, or simply the fact that they don’t have the coaches to coach it. But the Autumn performances were a step backwards overall.

        • Roar Guru

          January 12th 2017 @ 3:11am
          Harry Jones said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:11am | ! Report

          NB–no, because KK still coach in all likelihood and if that’s true we have perfect storm and unholy stew of incompetence, acceptance of mediocrity, and no fire in the players. Still can beat most teams, but can also lose to any team and will. Some good players coming back (Pollard) and openings for others (Rohan and Marx) but still, I think the nadir is yet to come

          • Columnist

            January 12th 2017 @ 3:21am
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:21am | ! Report

            Well I hope at least John Goosen can escape from France unharmed 🙂

    • January 11th 2017 @ 5:39am
      Mike Johns said | January 11th 2017 @ 5:39am | ! Report

      To compare Exeter and Leinster’s business model is quite frankly ridiculous, as the 2 organisations are operated on completely different lines. Exeter Chiefs are a rugby club whereas Leinster is a regional representative team funded by the IRFU. Your article puts forward the argument that the Irish Provinces are somehow self financing which isn’t the case, for example several of Leinster’s high profile stars such as Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton have their salaries topped up by private commercial sources and last year Munster were “bailed out” by the IRFU due to falling attendances and their inability to finance the debt created by the redevelopment of Thomond Park. So just as teams like Saracens and Wasps are living beyond their means so are the Irish provinces, whether the shortfall is underwritten by a private individual or a sports governing body is purely semantics, the economics are still the same. Also I find it odd that your article fails to mention the “project player” practice that the Irish Provinces all use, to name just a few players, CJ Stander, Richard Strauss, Tyler Bleyendaal, Finlay Bealam, Bundee Aki, Rob Herring, Wiehahn Herbst, Jared Payne, Louis Ludik might all be qualified as Irish (or in the process of qualifying) but they are all Southern Hemisphere imports whatever way you look at it.

      • Columnist

        January 11th 2017 @ 6:57am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 6:57am | ! Report

        Your article puts forward the argument that the Irish Provinces are somehow self financing which isn’t the case

        No it doesn’t Mike. The original point is that Leinster and Exeter both attempt to stay within their means and not create debt via massive player purchases and concomitant salaries.

        As far as I understand it, everything except gate money is channeled through the IRFU (e.g. prize money and TV rights). Even so, with Leinster’s ridiculously successful run in the Heineken Cup in recent years and their huge attendances (usually best in the Pro 12), Mick Dawson said a couple of years ago that they were close to being able to stand on their own feet without central funding. Whether this still applies I don’t know.

        So I very much doubt that either Leinster (or even the other provinces) have anywhere near the same spectrum of debt as some of the English clubs.

        Read this interesting article http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/european-cup/leinster-face-chill-financial-winds-if-denied-riches-from-europe-1.2438647

        Leinster have become increasingly self-sufficient, with an annual turnover of about €15 million, excluding monies from the IRFU towards the cost of provincially contracted players. The union pays €90,000 towards 17 of these contracts, and €50,000 toward the remainder.
        In Leinster’s case, this amounts to 27 of their 34 fully contracted players, and the IRFU committee was informed that the €2.3 million the union contributes towards these contracts is about €300,000 down on the comparative figure in 2006-07.

        The project player scheme is the same as in Scotland and is a fascinating topic on its own, but it has little immediate relevance to the gist of the article.

        • January 11th 2017 @ 12:49pm
          Bakkies said | January 11th 2017 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

          ‘So I very much doubt that either Leinster (or even the other provinces) have anywhere near the same spectrum of debt as some of the English clubs.’

          Ulster are pretty much self sufficient these days. The Kingo aka Ravenhill refurbishment was serviced by a great deal from respective governments. Crowds and sponsorships have gone well up. Ulster are able to sign and keep Piatau, Pienaar, Coetzee, Wannenburg, Muller, Payne,Herbst, Afoa from abroad and produce the likes of Jackson, Olding, McCloskey, Scholes, Stockdale, Henderson from their local ranks.

          Previously Ulster were signing the likes of Ryan Constable, Mark Bartholomeusz (more than handy player for the Brumbies but he was rank average at Ulster), Clinton Schifcofske, Isaac Boss, washed up Justin Harrison. Higher calibre overseas players helped the team become more consistent on both fronts. They were heading the same direction the Reds were between 2003 and 2010.

          ‘The salaries of players like Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip are paid in part by companies – Bank of Ireland and Topaz – who have existing commercial relationships with the club e.g. B of I as their shirt sponsor and a promotional campaign with Topaz for Johnny Sexton.’

          and allegedly Denis O’Brien. Irish provinces can’t outbid each other for players.

          ‘CJ Stander, Richard Strauss, Tyler Bleyendaal, Finlay Bealam, Bundee Aki, Rob Herring, Wiehahn Herbst, Jared Payne, Louis Ludik might all be qualified as Irish (or in the process of qualifying) but they are all Southern Hemisphere imports whatever way you look at it.’

          Bealham and Herring are Irish qualified through their family. So is Sean Reidy who toured to SA with Ireland. According to reports and interviews the Bulls cut Stander’s contract as he refused to move to hooker upon the coach’s request. His old man went up to Pretoria to talk it through with management. Stander went back to the family farm and was about to give the game away due to a bad decision by the coach (Meyer?).

          • Columnist

            January 11th 2017 @ 6:58pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

            Thanks for the background Bakkies, appreciated!

            The fact that there’s a universal pay scale in place helps enormously – at least between the four provinces, it doesn’t push the price up unnecessarily with bidding wars etc…

          • Roar Guru

            January 12th 2017 @ 3:32am
            Poth Ale said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:32am | ! Report

            Bakkies – the Topaz deal was through Denis O’Brien when he owned it.

      • Roar Guru

        January 11th 2017 @ 11:15am
        Poth Ale said | January 11th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        The salaries of players like Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip are paid in part by companies – Bank of Ireland and Topaz – who have existing commercial relationships with the club e.g. B of I as their shirt sponsor and a promotional campaign with Topaz for Johnny Sexton.

        Clearly the ownership models are quite different. the Irish provinces are ultimately owned by the IRFU, but operate as independent entities that are expected to perform as businesses. It is indeed true that the IRFU has “bailed out” Ulster, Munster and Connacht in the past, as per your recent example with Munster last season due to their falling attendances from not reaching knockout stages of the European Cup.

        In a sense, the amount of money being invested in capped foreign players has been reduced, and instead invested in Irish players to keep them in Ireland and to boost the domestic development pathway. Each of the four provincial academies now have 20 players each on 3-year development programmes which are now starting to bear fruit.

        The project player stemmed from the 2012 Player Succession Strategy implemented by the IRFU in 2012 in response to the player depth crisis that had emerged through too many foreign players blocking the development of Irish players – notably at the time in the propping stocks. That picture has now changed and the quotas of players allowed was reduced to a maximum of 4 foreign capped players plus 1 player who could become Irish qualified through residency per province. This policy applies to Ulster, Leinster and Munster, and is position specific as Nicholas mentions. As Nicholas points out, these quotas are not being filled by expensive, high profile capped foreign players.

        The point about uncapped players is that they are generally younger and do not cost anything like a high profile capped player would. Finlay Bealham is not a project player btw – his grandparents families live not too far from where he plays in Connacht and has strong ties to them.

        It’s also worth pointing out that these players don’t necessarily stay. Sometimes they only get one- or two-year contracts. Sometimes, they’re let go, or they don’t want to stay. Or even if they do stay, they may not be good enough for test level, but their regular availability is useful during the various test windows during the season.

        • January 11th 2017 @ 11:48am
          Munsterman said | January 11th 2017 @ 11:48am | ! Report

          The pro12 teams have to try and compete with the English/French clubs without the advantages of huge TV deals. To say teams like Exeter are somehow at a disadvantage to the Irish provinces is ludicrous. The irfu support the provinces but they put strict guidelines on them as pothale said. It’s all about developing young Irish talent now, the residency rules are going to change for every country. At the moment the leinster academy is probably the best in Europe bar none. Here at Munster we wouldn’t have quite the output as them but we’re producing plenty decent young players & are at the moment in the process of signing 3 young Irish players that have been playing in England & France. Still glad we got CJ though, what a legend 😁

          • January 11th 2017 @ 1:08pm
            Bakkies said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

            Perhaps but Exeter are a different kettle of fish. They developed the club and the academy structures. The promotion was gained through seasons of play off finishes without buying up squads like Bristol and Worcester (Cecil Duckworth is bankrolling them). Leeds also spent good money on imports (Lancaster’s views on Justin Marshall’s attitude at the club are easy to find online). There are no benefactors or partnerships (which is what Leeds/Yorkshire is practically is) at Exeter.

            Exeter have also recruited smartly and are consistent in their results.

            The Walkinshaw’s money in to Gloucester as far as I am aware didn’t buy consistent success. The Rugby management there is very erratic over recent years.

            The English clubs don’t get the type of council and overall corporate support that the French get. Bordeaux and Lyon get 25,000 plus capacity stadiums on a platter. Whereas the likes of Bath are still fighting. Part of the reason why Wasps moved to Coventry was that the Wycombe council rejected plans to refurbish Adams Park.

          • January 12th 2017 @ 11:37pm
            Chris said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:37pm | ! Report

            I wonder if Munster will get there crowds back as the other 3 Irish province’s seem to be doing well.

            • Columnist

              January 13th 2017 @ 5:49am
              Nicholas Bishop said | January 13th 2017 @ 5:49am | ! Report

              Last few home matches against Glasgow, Leicester and Leinster were maxed out at 26K!

              • January 13th 2017 @ 8:53pm
                Chris said | January 13th 2017 @ 8:53pm | ! Report

                Cheers BTW I would love to see Cornish Pirates and Jersey in the premiership and hope Bristol stay up but they need to move that bloody souls soccer stadium as it’s too big.

          • January 12th 2017 @ 11:39pm
            Chris said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:39pm | ! Report

            Be great to see Munster crowds come back as the other 3 Irish provinces are doing well.

        • Columnist

          January 11th 2017 @ 7:17pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 7:17pm | ! Report

          Many thanks for all the info PH… The complexion of the four provinces does look very different from what it did a few years ago. Back then there were mature, high profile international players like B.J. Botha, Ruan Pienaar, Johan Muller, John Afoa, Pedrie Wannenburg, Stefan Terblanche, Casey Laulala and Doug Howlett (and others).

      • January 11th 2017 @ 12:42pm
        Bakkies said | January 11th 2017 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

        There is talk that JP McManus is willing to put money in to Munster, he was waiting for things to stabilise off the field as there has been a lot of issues with the running of the organisation.

        • Columnist

          January 11th 2017 @ 7:22pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 7:22pm | ! Report

          Interesting to see how that works Bakkies, how they integrate financial input from a private source into the system…. In England and Wales, they don’t put in the money without wanting a controlling interest…!

      • January 11th 2017 @ 10:12pm
        Daire Thornton said | January 11th 2017 @ 10:12pm | ! Report

        @ Mike Johns. There is no real difference between a club and a province. Both are essentially clubs that represent slightly differently defined areas.

        The main difference between Exeter and Leinster is that as you say the IRFU owns Leinster however, they are for the most part self sufficient. The model works because there is a symbiotic relations between Irish provinces and the Ireland team. It is a good sustainable model which I think is the point that the article makes. There is very little private investment.

        Final point Finaly Bealham isnt a project player. He has Irish citizenship and came through the club system in Ireland. Of the guys mentioned only two are regular Ireland internationals so only two are really definitively project players.

        • January 16th 2017 @ 10:23pm
          Colin N said | January 16th 2017 @ 10:23pm | ! Report

          “Of the guys mentioned only two are regular Ireland internationals so only two are really definitively project players.”

          Not really. If players are bought with the intention of becoming Irish qualified and potentially play for Ireland, they are project players. Whether they are ‘regulars’ is irrelevant.

    • January 11th 2017 @ 6:29am
      Neil Back said | January 11th 2017 @ 6:29am | ! Report

      ” Leicester Tigers have recently sacked their coach, Richard Cockerill, a dyed-in-the-wool Leicester man, after a philosophical power-struggle with ex-All Black Aaron Mauger. ”

      That’s a big call as a standalone statement.

      • Columnist

        January 11th 2017 @ 7:00am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 7:00am | ! Report

        I don’t have any inside information, relying on press reports such as this one Neil!

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/rugby-union/2017/01/04/leicester-sacked-richard-cockerill-differences-coaching-outlook/ , and several others of the same hue at the time.

        Do you know different?

        • January 11th 2017 @ 8:21am
          Highlander said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

          HNY Nick
          I did hear one BBC report, I think from a board member, who stated that after a recent loss Cockers was doing his standard “lack of passion and effort” rant at the players in the dressing room and Mauger actually asked him to leave the changing sheds.

          Same report said the board was looking for a more technical direction in coaching implying that the push and grunt tactics of the past were now outdated.
          Cockerill has an fantastic history at Leicester but sounds like he is now considered unable to update his coaching methods.

          • Columnist

            January 11th 2017 @ 8:41am
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

            Hi H’lander

            That tallies pretty much with what I’ve read… Mauger introduced the Crusaders pod system at Leicester, which is as far as it’s possible to be from traditional old school Leicester.

            It will be interesting to see how Cockers goes down at Toulon, with whom he’s now a consultant.

          • January 16th 2017 @ 10:31pm
            Colin N said | January 16th 2017 @ 10:31pm | ! Report

            “I did hear one BBC report, I think from a board member, who stated that after a recent loss Cockers was doing his standard “lack of passion and effort” rant at the players in the dressing room and Mauger actually asked him to leave the changing sheds.”

            I haven’t read that personally but Ben Kay, who’s a pundit and also a Leicester board member, gave his account of what happened which made for interesting listening.

            Anyway, Cockerill would have been in his right to make that speech as quite often this season Leicester have lacked any sort of intensity, particularly away from home.

            Mauger also said pretty much the same thing after their loss to Racing at the weekend.

        • January 11th 2017 @ 11:34am
          Neil Back said | January 11th 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          I doubt there are many who really know the whole story and that may even include Cockers – but I’d be pretty sure it’s not the only reason. Even the article you quote uses ‘underscored’ and even that’s not clearly a direct quote from Mauger.

          • Columnist

            January 11th 2017 @ 7:19pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 7:19pm | ! Report

            It would certainly be interesting to know what the full story is. I remember speaking to a couple of very well-known ex-Tigers last year and there did seem to be a lot of changes (not to say turmoil) going on off the field.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 1:10pm
        Bakkies said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

        I’ve seen similar rumours online. It was that and certain players were looking for a change.

    • January 11th 2017 @ 6:52am
      Lostintokyo said | January 11th 2017 @ 6:52am | ! Report

      Thanks Nick. On the team private ownership front, I bet all the owners are following the US model of own a major sports franchise and become rich and famous. They are probably looking at capital appreciation more than their short term returns. Good fun too if it works. Not all will be able to ‘hang-in’ during the rough early days.

      For the sake of the game, let’s hope the organic model wins out in terms of development philosophy. Rugby does not need a Premier League with the whole world feeding it, although these owners would certainly like to see it.

      Private ownership of the Super sides in the Southern Hemisphere is to grow too. Is it good for rugby? Plenty of pain ahead I suspect but the fall back position can always be “look at the yanks!- it works for them”.

      • Columnist

        January 11th 2017 @ 7:02am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 7:02am | ! Report

        I think some of the benefactors are indeed trying to emulate the American sports ownership model and create ‘dynasties’. Possible in soccer but rugby has nowhere near the same public reach or exposure. That’s why – at least to date – most of them have turned their backs on the game…

        • January 11th 2017 @ 8:55am
          BrainsTrust said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

          The American sports ownership model works because they have a large market and salary cap measures to stop overspending. They are not even content with the salary cap measures and have drafts to further control their athletes. FOr their population they have a small number of teams, with a single tier with no promotion and regulation to service the whole country leading to a profitable and stable sports industry. The EPL in comparison with no salary cap will always head towards unprofitability and losing money, its possible to make money if one can overperform relative to the spending, but if one does the reverse they can lose hundreds of millions and then with promotion and relegation end up with a club that is worthless.
          The one thing rugby has going for it in the Northern Hemisphere is being for the upper classes it can get a large number of rich benefactors. It really has been benefactor driven, whether they are owners or give rich sponsorships its still the same thing, this is more comparable to China where they are growing revenue but its through beenfactor spending and they using inflated wages to attract players from elsewhere.
          At the extreme other end is the Middle East oil rich countries in UAE and Qatar, where they actually pay people or lure them with free food to attend club fixtures. These club competitions might have some of the richest wages for sleect overseas players but they have virtually no revenue.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 1:15pm
        Bakkies said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

        ‘I bet all the owners are following the US model of own a major sports franchise and become rich and famous. They are probably looking at capital appreciation more than their short term returns. Good fun too if it works. Not all will be able to ‘hang-in’ during the rough early days.’

        Apart from Stade Francais and soon Gloucester I can’t think of many uncertain changes in ownership in recent years. Pierre Fabre funding of Castres past away a few years ago however the business is still funding the club and they are working their way back up the Top 14 table.

        • January 16th 2017 @ 10:33pm
          Colin N said | January 16th 2017 @ 10:33pm | ! Report

          And Gloucester have a made a profit for five successive years.

    • January 11th 2017 @ 8:05am
      Dan in Devon said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      A lot of buzz around London Wasps. They are getting crowds now unheard of for conventional home and away games. Whether this translates into commercial viability remains to be seen but their investments in big name players appears to attracting more folks to their games.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 8:27am
        Highlander said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        Jimmy Goparth seems front and centre of lots of good things at Wasps Dan, not bad for an old fella

        • Columnist

          January 11th 2017 @ 8:44am
          Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

          He is. Cipriani/Gopperth appears to be their favoured 10/12 combo…

      • Columnist

        January 11th 2017 @ 8:43am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

        Certainly Dan – it may turn out to be a more important litmus test than Sarries, who don’t have the ground capacity to compete with Wasps. That’s the tried formula isn’t it? Big stars put bums on seats!

        • January 11th 2017 @ 12:00pm
          Neil Back said | January 11th 2017 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

          There’s other dynamics in play here for Wasps.

          They share their (modern) ground with Coventry City FC who post their glory days of an FA Cup win against Spurs have been in an inexorable free fall through the divisions and crowds have drifted away. Coventry always had a bit of a rugby history going back to the days when England internationals Dave Duckham and Peter Rossborough graced Coundon Road and their schools have produced contempories like Danny Grewcock and , er, Neil Back.

          Living in the shadow of their closest neighbours Leicester for so many years and the success of the Tigers it’s really no suprise they’re attracting support. And no suprise to the Directors who had the forethought to move them up the M1 either I suspect, to a place that also just happens to be at the intersection of a number of major motorways.

          • Columnist

            January 11th 2017 @ 7:27pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

            I remember when Richardson first had the idea of moving Wasps to Coventry it was seen as a potential masterstroke, because of that dormant fan base.

            They have done incredibly well considering the catchment area is so competitive, with both Leicester and Northampton nearby. Wocester for example have struggle to attract top players for that very reason, and have seen some of their brightest young talents drift away (Tom Wood springs to mind).

            • January 12th 2017 @ 10:25am
              Neil Back said | January 12th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

              You’re right, it is competitive in the Midlands but that also makes it a bit of a rugby hotspot – and like all real estate, position is everything. The Ricoh stadium sits on motorway access on the edge of the city, unlike a ground like Leicester’s which is central and less accessible, particularly on a Saturday afternoon which is a ball acher traffic wise. Apart from Coventry, a sizeable city anyway, the ground opens up to Birmingham, England’s second largest and gives the whole Eastern side a better option. If you were planning a new stadium, you wouldn’t go far wrong.

              But as always, show them success and they will come …..

          • January 13th 2017 @ 2:34am
            Bakkies said | January 13th 2017 @ 2:34am | ! Report

            365 day stadium on the cheap too

      • January 11th 2017 @ 1:16pm
        Bakkies said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

        Good local derbies up in Coventry. Leicester and Northampton obviously. Worcester isn’t too far away.

      • January 15th 2017 @ 8:06am
        Dublin Dave said | January 15th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        London Wasps? Who are they?

        Wasps have moved to Coventry in the Midlands. They share a ground with soccer club Coventry City. They have been nomads for the past number of years. Very like an American football “franchise” in fact.

    • January 11th 2017 @ 8:47am
      Fin said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      Hi Nick,
      Thankyou for the outline of the structures in British rugby.
      If the north want to truly embrace ‘running’ rugby and include the philosophy as part of their identity they will need a major cultural shift across the board won’t they? Not just some of the professional clubs but within schools, amongst the supporters, sponsors, governing bodies, etc.
      Also do you think the athletic talent is sufficient for teams to play this kind of game without having to recruit from the antipodes?

      • Columnist

        January 11th 2017 @ 10:05am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

        Easier in the Pro 12 to embrace a more open style because no threat of relegation Fin…

        As pointed out by posters above, the threat of relegation and the disastrous financial repercussions does have an effect on the embracing of risk on the field… Teams can be much more reluctant, esp as the pointy end of the season approaches!

        • January 11th 2017 @ 8:46pm
          Fin said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:46pm | ! Report

          On The Rugby Site Wayne Smith talks about a lot of coaches being so worried about losing that they don’t allow their teams attacking potential to flourish.
          Coaches that don’t view coaching as a career (like Cheika and Rod Macqueen) are not so worried about losing their job because they do it for passion and enjoyment, which I beleive gives them more internal freedom to operate and coach the way that naturally suits them and their own belief systems. It gives them an edge.

          • Columnist

            January 11th 2017 @ 9:45pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 9:45pm | ! Report

            Interesting point Fin, although there other examples like Graham Henry and Wayne Smith who have been lifelong coaches yet retain much of the same internal freedom – though you might argue that Wayne Smith has been able to sustain his passion by avoiding head coaching roles over the last 10 years or so…

            • January 11th 2017 @ 10:41pm
              Fin said | January 11th 2017 @ 10:41pm | ! Report

              Further to this when it comes to dealing with their bosses these coaching figures will manage up the line and demand what’s best for their team and will often not compromise. They have plenty of other options in life outside of rugby and therefore don’t fear losing their job. For example:
              • within days of being offered the wallabies job RM told the ARU CEO he will not accept it because the following years’ schedule was not good enough for him to be able to prepare the team to be ready. The schedule got changed.
              • Michael Cheika was able to convince the ARU CEO to change their policy on not selecting overseas players. Something the ARU had previously stated they wouldn’t do!
              • Cheika convinced the cash strapped ARU to pay out a $300,000 contract release fee to Leinster so that he could get Kane Douglas for the WC.
              • Compare this to Robbie Deans who accepted that the ARU were the ones that chose his assistant coaches or Ewan McKenzie who allowed the ARU to cut his expenditure budget which meant he couldn’t successfully run a professional sporting team and didn’t employ high level support staff and players were sometimes flying around the world in economy before and after games.

              • Columnist

                January 11th 2017 @ 11:06pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 11:06pm | ! Report

                Clive Woodward also made his fortune as a private entrepreneur and was frequently at odds with the RFU in order to get what he wanted. Cost him his job eventually, but he did win a WC along the way 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        January 11th 2017 @ 10:58am
        Poth Ale said | January 11th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

        It is more an outline of the quite different structures between English and Irish rugby systems. British doesn’t apply because the club/team ownership models are quite different between Britain and Ireland.

        And within Britain, there are distinct differences between English, Scottish and Welsh club/team ownership systems.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 1:01pm
        Neil Back said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

        “Also do you think the athletic talent is sufficient for teams to play this kind of game without having to recruit from the antipodes?”

        The really amusing part? I think you genuinely mean this as a question.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 1:18pm
        Bakkies said | January 11th 2017 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

        ‘I bet all the owners are following the US model of own a major sports franchise and become rich and famous. They are probably looking at capital appreciation more than their short term returns. Good fun too if it works. Not all will be able to ‘hang-in’ during the rough early days.’

        Having coached kids the last few years. They are well capable of playing attacking Rugby and you see it in amateur matches. The question remains is whether they are allowed to play that way at senior pro level. SA has the same problem as well.

        • Columnist

          January 11th 2017 @ 7:29pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2017 @ 7:29pm | ! Report

          This is an issue in Wales right now Bakkies. Talented kids are funnelled through the regional academies but their physical development far outreaches their skills. Take a look at the recent Wales under 19s at the WC, they are absolutely huge!

          • January 12th 2017 @ 6:31am
            Bakkies said | January 12th 2017 @ 6:31am | ! Report

            The Welsh under 20s have fielded some big squads over recent years. Ireland haven’t been able to cope with them physically. Expect to see a continuation of the skills based coaching from Nigel Carolan who also double jobs with Connacht.

      • January 11th 2017 @ 4:34pm
        FunBus said | January 11th 2017 @ 4:34pm | ! Report

        ‘Also do you think the athletic talent is sufficient for teams to play this kind of game without having to recruit from the antipodes?’

        It’s a tough one, Fin. But, I suppose seeing as Britain finished second in the Rio Olympics medal table including dominating sports like rowing, cycling, and triathlon; had the third best gymnastics team there, probably has the third best sprinting depth in the world as measured by number of sub-10 sec sprinters, and has well over a dozen world boxing champions at various weights, I reckon it suggests that, statistically, if we scoured the country we might be able to find half a dozen blokes without beer bellies that could last beyond half-time.

        We’ll never match the athletic ‘prowess’ of Australia and New Zealand, obviously, but at least we’re triers.

        • January 11th 2017 @ 8:13pm
          Fin said | January 11th 2017 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

          Thanks for summarising the Brittain Olympic sports results, although I am not sure what it has got to do with a rugby forum.
          My point is this style of attack – integrating forwards with backs and stretching defences with ball movement and width requires not just skill but athletic ability, and every NZ super rugby team is superior in this aspect of the game. It’s how they play. Australia and Australian teams try to open up defences in similar ways but they generally lack the athletes that NZ possess and are not as effective. And from what I have seen (admittedly really only on the international level) European teams don’t have the same level of athletes that the NZ rugby system does which makes it more difficult to play this style effectively.

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