Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

08th July 2014 06:43


Nick Cummins farewell sign

Great sign (click to expand)

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly gathering of excited roars, tense hushes and frenzied catcalls. This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Honey Badgers, La Revolution and acrobatics...

As someone noted on some forum somewhere this week, when players quit the SH countries to go chasing bucks elsewhere, they often are followed out of the door by a chorus of catcalls.

Not so Nick Cummins, who was wished only well this week as he heads off to Japan for a new stage in his career. Odd timing indeed with a World Cup 14 months away, but then some things are more important. As most will no doubt know by now, Cummins' move is fuelled primarily by the need to make enough money to support a family in which two siblings suffer from cystic fibrosis and at the top of which single father Mark - once Queensland's Father of the Year - is now fighting a renewed fight against cancer.

In fact, 'wished only well' barely covers it. Cummins has been voted Australia's most Australian man in many papers, much of it due to his terrific array of one-liners which have delighted a nation that prides itself on its colourful array of similes and metaphors. 'Sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage' was the prize one I heard from him, but most have got their own favourite.

Many fans have also seized on the fact that the Wallabies are yet to lose when Cummins scores a meat pie, while Fox Sports Australia managed to create a farewell musical tribute to him. He can do little wrong.

In a time when sportsmen - and in particular rugby players - in Australia have received little but bad press over the past few years for off-field antics, the loss of a true home-grown family man hero is going to be keenly felt off Australia's pitches as well as on it.

God only knows what one-liners he might add to his repertoire in Japan though - watch this space.

Meanwhile in France, off the pitch is where everything is happening. If you ever needed proof that an excess of money can eventually render a club notionally more powerful than a national federation, look no further than Toulon.

But the power-mongering is becoming increasingly ugly. Once upon a time Mourad Boudjellal was good for a few churlish soundbites about referees if his team lost, or about administrations if his team was deprived a couple of players for national duty.

But having equipped himself with the somewhat more elegant and smoothly-spoken Bernard Laporte - who, lest we forget, was French Secretary of State for Sport for a while - Boudjellal's bullying is becoming a little more targetted and revolutionary.

In his defence, Philippe Saint-Andre did start it, once again blaming the Top 14 and the influx of foreign players to cash-rich clubs like Toulon - everyone really, there are over 200 foreign players in the Top 14 - for France's poor showing in June. Boudjellal has always insisted his decision to create a squad of globetrotters is a simple case of economics - he can't afford to pay the top dollar he does only to have his best players miss a third of the regular season because of international duty, more if the players get injured.

Boudjellal is not alone. Toulouse's law-unto-himself coach Guy Noves is also continuously at odds with the international demands, but he has, at least until very recently, remained committed to keeping his side reasonably French.

Back to Boudjellal anyway, who is now harpooning the inter-club movement scene as well.

"We're looking at the problem in French rugby from the wrong direction," he continued.

"Are there a lot of talented young players that are being refused a place in favour of a foreigner? The answer is no. Why? Because our young talented players have not been well developed.

"The day that we can monetise the development of a player, the situation will change. We need to have contract transfers.

"At the moment, the problem with development is that one doesn't buy out the contract of a player from his academy, one buys a player at his market value.

"Between a player developed at your club and an outside player who earns the same salary, what's the difference? A player developed at your club costs more because you have to pay for the years at the academy. It's easier to just take another player from elsewhere.

"If every time I want to recruit a player developed at a club I need to pay between 300 000 and 400 000 Euros, at some stage I'll decide to develop them myself.

"A new economic model is needed to solve the development problem."

Put simply, Boudjellal is advocating the initiation of transfer fees a la soccer, but that is deeply worrying, despite his accurate observation that player development is expensive and can be a waste of money if a club receives no compensation for the work they have put into a promising youngster.

It is worrying because it potentially accelerates further the inflow of big money into the game, thus further expanding the muscle power of the Boudjellals and Lorenzettis at the expense of the more modest clubs. Boudjellal is right to say that most club owners would rather develop players than pay transfer fees eventually, but, the acid test really is: would he? Or would he do what he has done hitherto, which is bring in the best almost regardless of cost - including the French internationals he does not see for half a season? Or, having developed them, would he then be selling at a profit in order to get more seasoned players? His system makes sense from one direction, but it is just as open to 'abuse' as the current system - where at least the running length of a contract is generally honoured.

The problem in France is that everybody wants too much of everything. There are too many games, too many foreign stars, too many good young players swallowed up and spat out by rich hoarding clubs, too much being paid in salaries to average players. National team players are tired - never more evident than in Australia - and increasingly not even French. The Federation is ineffective against the machine that is the Top 14, but as England has found, national obscurity sucks the lifeblood away from a game like a spider. The Top 14 administration simply refuses to put any kind of limit on the growth, any kind of structure ensuring clubs build from within first. The most recent attempt two years ago to try and restrict spiralling wages and encourage home-grown players, was risible.

If ever a system was racing towards a cataclysmic fall-out, French rugby is it. And will Mourad Boudjellal be hanging around to help it?

Finally, onto a brief online discussion I stumbled across this week and a question concerning the legality of this try:

Legal? Answers below please...

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

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