Big Player Moves Are Damaging National Rugby Teams Both Sides Of The Channel


Reading Dave’s commentary about ‘Rugby’s Movers and Shakers – Who’s Going Where …’ helped crystallise some thoughts in my mind regarding the direction and future of the professional game, and some of the disturbing parallels I am seeing emerge with the Premier League in football.

Reading Dave’s commentary about ‘Rugby’s Movers and Shakers – Who’s Going Where …’ helped crystallise some thoughts in my mind regarding the direction and future of the professional game, and some of the disturbing parallels I am seeing emerge with the Premier League in football.

The drain of top British talent in the direction of France (and I can think of many things I’d rather send down a drain to France other than top players!!!) continues unabated and, with the salary cap there increased to c.£8.6m this is not going to stop any time soon. We are now losing Lydiate, Roberts, Gray, Hamilton and Sexton. The spending power in France is running away from the rest of Europe as evidenced by the all-French Heineken Cup Final. Hang on a minute though! In the Clermont squad there were 11 nationalities and 7 in Toulons. Remind me again! How did France perform in the 6 –Nations?

Now look at English football – I know, it’s not pleasant. Whilst the Premier League draws enormous worldwide audiences, some starting line-ups feature very few home grown players and, if I recall accurately, Chelsea did start one game with no English players on the pitch. At the same time the England team is approx. the equivalent of a Stoke City or W.B.A. on the international stage. The imports are blocking emerging British talent.

The W.R.U.’s approach of preferring to stick with home-based players has, until now, served them fairly well in recent years and I firmly believe that when international quality players play together every week or against each other in the same league every few weeks, they find it easier to blend together at international level – Ireland’s woeful 6-Nations tends to go against this theory.

In fairness, the Irish boys seem happier generally to stick around in their homeland and although they are seeing some greats hitting retirement, rumour suggests that there is some bright young talent on the way up, and the Regions do seem to enjoy healthy support. Of course, there is no real football competition there.

Wales, on the other hand, are seeing club rugby attendances decline and, as I’ve pointed out previously, the Blues, playing in the heart of the nation’s capital are struggling to keep players and get a new pitch/upgrade the shed of a stadium that is called ‘The Arms Park’ when faced with poor attendances when Cardiff City are now in the Premier League. The floating fans will follow the glitz and glamour of the United’s, Arsenals etc. The Dragons are struggling with results and attendances and I believe that, unless something radical is done, we may see the Welsh regions reduced to three or even two within 2 – 3 years. The W.R.U. only distribute £15m to the Regions and it is clear that, given the internal frictions, that they are trying to starve the Regions into submission with the aim of taking over the professional game.

If they do, let’s hope they make a better job of it than in Italy where the club game is dying at the same time as the national side are no longer the safe bet ‘wooden spooners’ of the 6-Nations. Weird?

If you look at Italy at international level you will struggle to identify two quality players to cover some positions and what happens when Parisse and others go out to pasture? Italy’s under-18’s suffered an embarrassing 17 – 12 defeat at the hands of Georgia in March, there are no coaches of international pedigree and their governing body stand accused of chasing professionalism to the exclusion of basics such as academy development.

Rugby in Europe has been enjoying a rise in popularity but I am genuinely concerned that it is not being professionally managed for the long term sustainability of the game, with too many internal political battles – the S.R.U. has had it’s collective head stuck firmly in the land of eternal darkness since the start of the professional era there – and, most importantly, that big money and, inevitably, big business will take over so that in another 10 – 15 years time our sport will come to represent all those things that we so despise about professional football.

The I.R.B. will stay well away from local or even regional issues but can anybody tell me exactly what the E.R.C. do? Their strap-line is ‘Driving European Club Rugby Competition’ but, driving it where? Into the ground perhaps, or the South of France? In fairness, the weather is a lot more pleasant down by the Med.

I believe that we desperately need a robust European governing body to develop a joined-up long term plan for control, development and appropriate promotion of the game. We need a degree of uniformity on salary caps, squad size, overseas player quotas etc.

God save rugby, ‘cos the authorities don’t seem able or willing to do so.

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  1. Sexton is not British talent as you allude to in paragraph three. He is Irish

  2. Also Rugby is a third/fourth on the scale of participated sports in Ireland. There is huge competition for both viewing and participating in rugby

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