Loose Pass

Date published: July 1 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with World Rugby's need to act to preserve the integrity of the Rugby World Cup.

Money talks, players listen

Two stories have emerged in the last week that will have sent shockwaves through World Rugby's Dublin HQ.

Firstly, there was Saracens wing David Strettle's decision to withdraw from England's Rugby World Cup training squad to get a head start on his latest career challenge with French giants Clermont Auvergne.

He had not featured for Stuart Lancaster's side since 2013 but a rich vein of form for Sarries, who he helped propel to the Aviva Premiership title, had put him firmly back in the selection picture.

But he has shunned possible further international honours – he has earned 14 caps since making his debut in 2007 – and the chance to appear at a home World Cup to help his family settle in France before the start of the Top 14 season in August.

Strettle's decision may have been prompted by the belief that he was unlikely to make the cut when England confirm their final 31-man squad for the World Cup next month.

But why not back yourself and fight for your place and the opportunity to share in what will be very special occasion especially for England's leading players?

There are those that fear that this is just the latest example of a leading club offering an incentive to players willing to turn their back on international rugby and focus solely on the domestic stage.

If true, it would represent just the latest kick in the teeth for World Rugby and their premier tournament.

England can of course weather the loss, even someone as talented as Strettle, because of the riches at their disposal.

Forgotten man Semesa Rokoduguni has since been granted a World Cup lifeline having being cast aside after winning his one and only cap last autumn.

Other countries are countries are not so fortunate, including England's World Cup pool rivals Uruguay, who have been dealt a hammer blow with the mysterious international retirement of one of their key figures – Rodrigo Capo Ortega.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Ortega's French club Castres has announced that he will not play at the World Cup 'for personal reasons'.

This news, that strangely came from Ortega's club rather than his country, comes less than a year since he helped Los Teros qualify for the World Cup with a play-off victory over Russia.

Ortega compared his side's success to 'winning the World Cup' itself before expressing his desire to 'play in all the matches' at this year's tournament in England.

These do not strike you as the words of a man who would happily give up the chance to see that journey through to the end but his club insist the decision is his alone.

Despite their insistence to the contrary, there will no doubt still be those who will suggest he has been pressurised into putting club before country and the Top 14 ahead of the World Cup.

It would not be his first World Cup, having made his tournament bow at RWC 2003, and at 34-years-old perhaps he is more aware than most that his career is drawing to a close and there is a need to secure his future.

As a veteran, club contracts are particularly precious and maybe that desire to secure one final big pay day and thank a club that has supported him for the last 13 years contributed to his surprising decision.

But that does not make it right – far from it.

This is of course not a new issue with reports of clubs offering financial incentives to players from developing nations to 'retire' from international rugby having blighted the game for many years.

It was hoped that the damaging allegations that surfaced around the last World Cup would lead to change but it appears not.

Unfortunately, any such dodgy dealings can only be punished and prevented if players go on the record with details of contracts but none are going to do that and jeopardise their livelihood or those of their team-mates.

It may seem easy to blame the clubs but they are just looking to preserve their own investments – why contract and be forced to pay players who they can't select during World Cups?

World Rugby regulations stipulate that all players must be released during international windows but that does appear to be enough to preserve the integrity of their showpiece event.

This is a major problem that requires urgent attention – but what is the answer?

A restructuring of the calendar to ensure there is no clash between the leading domestic leagues and the World Cup would appear one solution but agreement on a global season has long eluded stakeholders with commercial interests and traditional tournament dates key sticking points.

An alternative may be a change to the distribution of the massive profits generated by the World Cup with this year's tournament set to provide a reported £150m windfall.

That money is currently used to fund the development of the game and also compensate those unions who participate in the World Cup.

A greater share for those Tier 2 nations may help them to combat the financial power of Europe's deep-pocketed clubs.

Or perhaps it would be better to follow FIFA's lead in football – just this once – and use it to compensate the Top 14, PRO12 and Premiership clubs as part of an agreement not to stage games in direct competition with the World Cup?

World Rugby must act swiftly to preserve their own reputation and that of the Rugby World Cup.

Loose Pass is compiled by former scrum.com editor Graham Jenkins

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