This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with Andy Goode, Tonderai Chavhanga, Sam Underhill and the very future of global rugby.
Less is more
Those of you who feel the biff has been extracted from the game should head immediately to Dublin. The chief execs of the leading rugby nations are convening on the Irish capital to hammer out a workable global season. It will a fearsome sight to see. Handbags will fly. There will be blood.
At the risk of vastly over-simplifying matters, here’s how things stand as the Blazers prepare to touch, pause and engage:
The southern hemisphere, now blessed/lumbered (delete to personal taste) with an expanded Super Rugby season, want incoming tours to arrive in July rather than June. This would probably suit the unions of the northern hemisphere, particularly the likes of France and England who always embark on these tours half-cocked, with their best players still in play-off action for their clubs. (Could you imagine the All Blacks ever doing that?) But the northern season would require a significant shift to incorporate this change, if not a significant extension.
Meanwhile, European clubs are demanding that international and domestic weekends be non-concurrent. In other words, they don’t want to be without their best players for the duration of the Six Nations – and who could possibly blame them? But clearing a mid-season window would extent the season even further. With the two rest weekends, we are talking a cessation of seven weeks.
And speaking of extending the season, these same European clubs are pushing for an annual final between the European and Super Rugby champions … and a multi-team ‘World Club Championship’ to be played every four years!
Where will it all fit and how? And more importantly, when will the players get to rest?
Gareth Davies, chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, was full of gallows humour when he told The Times: “The only easy solution is someone designing a 60-week calendar.”
But that’s where the joke ends.
One hopes that someone in Dublin will be banging the drum for those with livelihoods at stake, but whether concerns over player burn-out will be heard is another matter. The retirement age for professional rugby players is getting younger as the seasons get longer. It’s a correlation blindingly obvious to all but the money-hungry guardians of our game.
And with that we turn to Bill Beaumont, who this week becomes the new chairman of World Rugby – the highest administrative position in the game.
Is the former England and Lions (and Question of Sport) skipper the right man for the job? Let’s try some positive thinking and say ‘yes’. He’s a decent, dyed-in-the-wool rugby man whose stance on player welfare has been shaped by his own enforced retirement for the field of play. (Multiple concussions, if you were wondering.)
But we pin our highest hopes on his business acumen, forged as boss of his family’s textile firm in Lancashire. He knows something about flogging a decent product, about supply and demand, and about the battle of quality versus quantity. We pray he imparts these basic economics principles on his new colleagues.
Please, Bill, teach them that the value of a diamond stems directly from its perceived rarity. Make them see that less is sometimes more. Simply demand that they stop churning out the nondescript plonk – the Sunwolves, the Southern Kings, the league play-offs, the meaningless tours, the walking wounding – and serve us the odd tot of claret.
For that we would pay good money; for that we will travel!
Spreading the gospel
Hang on, we haven’t finished kicking the Blazers just yet.
Whilst they can’t be blamed for continuing to tease money out of TV execs with promises of ever new and ever improved offerings, we seldom stop to ask ourselves: to what end?
How much money does rugby actually need, and where does it go?
The party line is, of course, that it is all pumped back into “growing the game at grass-roots level”. But this notion has been dealt a tangential blow by Tonderai Chavhanga.
Not only was the former Bok brave enough to ruminate on the ins and outs of South African rugby’s transformation agenda (or apparent lack of one), he managed to raise a point hitherto lost to all those in engulfed in the brouhaha.
How, he asked calmly, could the gospel of rugby be spread across a poor country if forced to ride on the back of an expensive television subscription service.
“The bottom line is that in order for the game to grow we need to make it accessible to everyone,” he wrote in Die Burger. “Rugby has to find its way on to a free-to-air channel, and not be governed by the size of a cheque.”
You looking for an assistant, Bill?
There was plenty of harrumphing over Andy Goode’s inclusion on the Rugby Players’ Association’s Player of the Year shortlist, mostly centering on the fact he only put in 344 minutes during the entire Premiership season.
They are missing the joke. The players were the ones casting the votes, and they’ve simply doffed a collective cap to one of the game’s greatest characters.
No lover of the gym, it will go down in (bogus) rugby folklore that the 344 minutes in question came after Goode pretend to retire in order to avoid the horrors of pre-season. If it wasn’t the only sidestep of his career, it was definitely his best.
For those of you ignorant or somehow immune to the delights of ‘Skullet’, please feast your eyes and ears on the footage below. Like some sort of monstrous rugby mash-up, you’ll see he has the feet of a fly-half, the mouth of a scrum-half, the head of a prop and the torso of … well, you decide!
Final point of order and it’s directed squarely at Eddie Jones.
Eddie babes, two words: Sam Underhill.
He plays for the Ospreys and I guess it’s all a bit confusing up here, but you do know you are allowed to pick him, right?
Loose Pass was compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson