There hasn’t been much to shout about for England rugby fans in recent months, however there’s been plenty to make us want to scream.
From England having the ignominy of having become the first host nation to exit a World Cup during the pool stages, and the ensuing fallout, through to the huge cover up of salary cap breaches by Premiership rugby, it has been a frustrating period for those watching on.
Whilst the World Cup exit was obviously a huge disappointment, the most frustrating aspect has been the ensuing debacle since England’s loss to Australia. Fans have been left out in the cold, forced to feed off the meagre scraps doled out in the rag press from one disgruntled anonymous England player or another.
Possibly more frustrating than the leaked tidbits from so called professionals, has been the way the RFU have gone about assembling a review panel and conducting a full investigation, with the man in charge of hiring Stuart Lancaster in the first place chairing the committee.
Not only is it a shocking state of affairs to have Ian Ritchie chairing the review panel, but the absence of criticism for those at the top, including the likes of Rob Andrew is frankly an embarrassment. These same individuals have now overseen two disastrous World Cup campaigns and yet somehow look set to preside over a third debacle, whilst each of the coaches they hired are likely to be used as scapegoats.
Possibly even more frustrating however has been the total cover up of salary cap breaches being covered up by the very people meant to be policing them, Premiership Rugby. It has already been confirmed two clubs have made settlements, but are refusing to give any specifics. (only Bath, Saracens and Leicester are yet to confirm they weren’t investigated).
This has led to widespread condemnation from fans and pundits across England who feel that a huge cover up has taken place. There have obviously been issues with legal wranglings, and proposed threats from the clubs being investigated, but their actions are currently tarnishing the Premiership brand.
How can fans be expected to sit back and watch their clubs struggle every season, knowing full well that the teams challenging at the top are only there after not only breaching an agreement they were originally happy to make, but then threatening legal ramifications if they are penalised for breaking said agreement.
The whole point of the salary cap was to create an even playing field and avoid the scenario we now have where clubs who are not backed by wealthy owners are forced to stretch themselves financially in a bid just to stay within touching distance. This is exactly what has happened to football in England, and we have already seen some of the fallout from this.
Even worse than the breaches however, has been the silence from those at the top who are showing absolutely zero respect to those fans who turn up every week, paying for tickets and buying merchandise. How much longer will they be willing to stand by and part with their hard earned cash despite knowing full well they are being cheated out of a fair competition?
Both sagas have done nothing but perpetuate the idea that English rugby is run by an old boys club who would rather protect their corporate blazers than focus on the betterment of rugby across the country, and possibly even the globe.
Unfortunately the men at the top are becoming increasingly irrelevant as they continue to cling on to the last remaining vestiges of a bygone era. Whilst it seems rugby is ready to move on, and continue to develop, it is being held back by those who would put personal interests over the interests of the many.
Whilst the likes of Saracens and Bath may eventually get their way, it is up to those in charge to look after the wider interests of professional rugby in England, and ensure that the other clubs are allowed to compete. Both sides clearly have the financial resource to cope with significant penalties, so why not impose fans, and points deductions on them.
Yes there would no doubt be a giant legal wrangle that could go one way or the other, but the fact both clubs have already agreed to settlements suggest they must be at least somewhat aware that there is something dodgy in their bookkeeping.
Equally, if the RFU is to truly move on from the last six years of mediocrity, surely an entirely independent review panel is exactly what is needed, not just to review the current England set up, but to look at the entire organisation as a whole.
There’s no doubt that had the RFU been a publically traded company that those at the top would already have been forced to step aside whilst a group of independent auditors were brought in to provide a full structural review. Whilst rugby hasn’t quite reached this stage yet, the fact it is now a professional sport handling hundreds of millions of pounds, there needs to be some degree of corporate accountability.
The longer the current crop of cronies at the top of the RFU and Premiership Rugby cling on, the harder it will be to restore supporter faith and ensure the continued spread of English rugby, not just nationally, but across the globe.