There has been a lot of talk of late about whether or not rugby’s ‘core values’ remain in place. Respect, fair play, discipline: these have been cherished and championed, lorded over other sports maybe, by rugby fans for all eternity. Now, they suddenly come under question.
There has been outrage about Ellis Genge’s interview after the Scotland game. A man with an eyebrow slit, drinking a beer, wearing the red rose! God forbid. There has been outrage at Finn Russel, flouncing out of the Scotland squad in a huff. He doesn’t like the coach! There has been outrage at the behaviour of the Murrayfield crowd. Booing the kicker. Antagonising the players. Throwing things at them. It is all very unseemly and undignified. It is not the image that rugby traditionally likes to portray. There has been outrage at Eddie Jones, all his talk in the media. All his stoking of the fires. This talk of hate and war and aggression and brutality. There has been outrage at the RFU, who suddenly seem not to care about grassroots rugby? No way!
All this outrage. Personally, I think some people need a reality check. This is the modern sporting environment. This is professionalism. This is elite, commercialized collision theatre. This is money and high stakes. Are you not entertained?
Rugby is a travelling circus like any other sport. It is forced to be. This is the 21st century, not the 1980s. Things that do not shock and entertain and look exciting on TV do not last. The RFU is cutting adrift the Championship. Why? Is it not obvious? Because it is not glamorous, it is not marketable and it does not do well on TV. I find it baffling, then, that anyone can chastise a player for supposedly forgoing rugby’s sacred values when the game itself, structurally, ignores them day by day.
The game is changing. It must to survive. This is lamentable perhaps, but unavoidable nonetheless. That does not mean that all that happens is inevitable, of course. Deciding to halve the Championship’s money was not inevitable, and it was scandalous. But it does mean that some sort of change, some flux, some evolution is happening, whether rugby likes it or not.
Rugby X is coming. Rugby sevens, arguably, is already here. Global Rapid Rugby is knocking on the door. Change is inevitable. Rugby must accept this, and try and shape its future accordingly. It needs to work out what it is, then work out what it wants to be. For, at the minute, change is happening, but it all seems very contested, very haphazard and very muddled.
Written by Joe Ronan.