Touch, pause, don’t engage: How the old rugby world is hurting the game

Andrew Roar Pro

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    1995. It was the year Will Carling infamously and accurately described the RFU general committee as ’57-year-old farts’, and 22 years on his comments seem eerily prescient of the plaid and staid attitude rugby administration continues to exhibit towards non-traditional countries and regions.

    Georgia is banging down the door to play more top-level internationals, Argentina is now firmly ensconced in the international schedule, Japan is hosting the world cup and the Pacific Islands are finally gaining more exposure, however it seems every decision and arrangement made by the rugby world is still viewed through the prism of the Home Nations, France, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

    Of course as Bob Dylan sang, “money doesn’t talk, it swears”, and the current monied unions such as England are currently swearing like wharfies at the pub, spilling their drinks everywhere and dropping f-bombs like they’re going out of fashion.

    When a mild controversy sprung up at the back end of 2016 regarding the pay disparity between the England and Fiji players for their clash at Twickenham, RFU chief Ian Ritchie showed the subtlety of a parade of elephants by uttering the ugly retort, “It is not England’s responsibility to help fund world rugby, we have absolutely no obligation to do anything”.

    Chris Robshaw kneels

    (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    If this attitude was to trickle down all throughout rugby we might as well ban laying on post-match food and beers for the opposition, not allow players and fans from the other team any parking spaces and smear dog poo all over the away dressing room – which to be fair would probably be an upgrade on the smell in most rugby dressing rooms anyway.

    It’s just not cricket, and heaven forbid it actually goes down the same route as cricket, which has ridiculously decided to contract the number of nations participating in its World Cup down to 10.

    When Graham Henry headed to Argentina in a coaching consulting capacity in 2012 it showed a willingness to help spread ideas about the game and to embrace a different culture at the same time, even if they were in direct competition with his beloved All Blacks – something sadly missing in the ‘gap year’ mentality prevalent in many players who head overseas.

    Often these other countries, and even France, are merely reduced to clichés and soundbites, with generic terms and phrases such as “flair”, “solid scrum”, “you never know which team is going to turn up” and “plucky” trotted out with depressing regularity almost as a reflex action – so as not to bother with the same level of critical thinking and analysis bestowed upon the traditional heavyweights.

    A cautionary tale in all of this is Italy, who in retrospect were prematurely elevated to the Six Nations in 2000, such has been their struggle to remain competitive. Their clumsy integration resulted in them looking like the work experience kid being asked to be CEO all of a sudden, or a foreign exchange student being dropped off in the middle of town without directions home and wishing them luck (or alternatively, asking an ARU board member to find his way to a club rugby game from The Boathouse at Balmoral on a Saturday).

    The 2019 World Cup in Japan feels like the finishing of the initial 24-year chapter of professionalism, with the advent of the world calendar afterwards offering a fantastic opportunity to engage with the so-called ‘lesser’ countries and to begin greater co-operation and opportunities. Watching the Wallabies with 50,000 Georgians in Tbilisi? Sign me up.

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