This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with denouements, industry problems and ridiculous yellow cards…
Australia’s great mess
It seemed that all was tied up and done. The mastermind who had tried to take it all down had instead fallen on his own sword. The suffering underlings could carry on and look forward to a better future.
But in classic Hollywood plot twist style, it wasn’t! No, no, there was one more! A third man, perhaps, a worm higher up the chain of command, an even more fiendish and dastardly puppet master with loyalties to no one but himself and his own avarice! And now, the final denouement: he was found out! He had to go! They would confront him and push him to his fate!
That, at least, is how the exit of Hamish McLennan from the Rugby Australia Chair came across on Monday. Eddie Jones came and went. But something still didn’t feel right. And so the member union representatives sifted through it all, looked at McLennan’s plans for the post-Jones era and realised they’d been aiming their energies at the wrong guy, or level, all along. McLennan was captured, confronted with his own egregiousness, and given a choice between jumping or being horribly pushed. The drama! And then McLennan, jumping, twisting, falling through the air to his end while the union suits watched on from above with solemn looks of relief.
Brilliant closing lines from both too: McLennan claimed the states were putting “parochialism and self-interest” ahead of the game, and the unions said they “do not believe Mr McLennan has been acting in the best interests of our game.” For the unions to say that after McLennan oversaw victorious bids for the next Men’s and next-but-one Women’s World Cups is impressive, while it should be noted that they’ve shown a lot more unity about the need to get rid of McLennan than they have about in which direction the game should go under Rugby Australia’s centralisation plan. Wonder how long before that becomes the next political squabble playing out in public between the warring tribes.
McLennan made mis-steps. The way Dave Rennie was ousted and Jones shoe-horned in felt uncomfortable long before it was clear that the team was bombing, and bombing hard. While McLennan’s determination to steamroll through everything and change Australia’s fortunes with big calls and rapid changes was admirable, he was bound to end up alienating too many people if it didn’t go right, which is what has happened.
But he will end up being the mother of all scapegoats if there is not serious and lasting change within Australian rugby, starting with those unions who ousted McLennan getting together and sorting out a working central agreement.
“The results of the World Cup were pretty poor, but I think we’ve got to look at the underlying reasons and the fact is the system’s broken, and we’ve got to fix it,” said McLennan on Monday, noting that he believed the unions would end up squabbling among themselves: “I think this is all about money and control at the end of the day, so we’ll see how it plays out.”
Of course, it should be all about rugby, but there’s a feeling it’s not been about that in Australia for a while, on many levels.
It would be crazy to presume that the administrators of Exeter Chiefs would push out a reason for the late salary payments, which could so quickly be proved or disproved, but what ought to concern all is the numbers surrounding the denial.
The Chiefs are expected to announce annual losses of around GBP4m for the last tax year shortly, a staggering amount of money to just lose; for context, the salary cap is currently GBP5.2m. So, you know, that’s not a serious problem, it’s only a loss of close to 80 per cent of the entire playing staff’s annual payroll in one year (assuming the Chiefs use all their cap room up).
The Chiefs are apparently seeking fresh investment to ensure survival in the long-term, but you’d have to think that not even Todd Boehly and his mastery of accounting principle stretch and amortisation on high-risk assets could consider this one a worthy pie to own a slice of.
If English rugby is to be compared to an actual industry sector, it’s a sector in which several high-profile companies have collapsed and in which demand for the product generally is stagnant at best (Exeter’s attendances are dwindling). And that’s not even considering that in a couple of weeks’ time, a preliminary court hearing will decide which cases out of 234 will be taken to the high court in order to determine how liable said product is for being permanently damaging to its workers’ health.
I’m a proud former @ExeterChiefs. Love the club. Don’t believe for one moment they’re in financial difficulties. But I honestly can’t remember the last time Sandy Park was sold out 🤔
— Will Hooley (@will_hooley) November 19, 2023
It ought to be noted here: Exeter’s administrators are not villains in this; the point is more that when a club that has tried as hard as Exeter has to do things sustainably and responsibly – and that was champions of Europe three years ago – is rumoured to be on the brink, then it has to be the industry itself which is broken.
But hands are tied. Exeter fans are upset that season ticket prices do not reflect the fact there are fewer games on the ticket now, but then players are contracted per season, irrespective of how many games there are. There’s no quick fix until economics does it for you, as Worcester, Wasps, London Irish, and Jersey have all found out.
Pray for the game that Exeter makes it through the season – at least then we’ll have a season. But goodness me, English rugby is still in trouble.
The harshest of yellows
So, a player is bracing for contact. The ball-carrier gets low, very low in fact, not far off hip-high low and with head down and forward. Not only does the tackler have to brace for that contact, but he also has to brace for double weight and force as the latcher binds onto the rumbling ball-carrier.
In no universe where you are in any way bothered about self-preservation do you bend down and brace for that contact.
Rusi Tuima didn’t either, he stayed upright, therefore ensuring both a degree of safety for himself and that he did not meet the ball-carrier head-on, or indeed, head-on-head.
This feels incredibly harsh on Rusi Tuima (Exeter #4); he was yellow-carded for making head-on-head contact with George McGuigan (Gloucester #2). pic.twitter.com/A5eITrkWrQ
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) November 21, 2023
The problem ends up being the latcher, George McGuigan, who does not bind on bent down to hip high level, but also runs upright. Tuima and McGuigan clash heads, as the ball-carrier’s momentum drives Tuima’s waist backwards much faster than Tuima’s upper body, while McGuigan simply follows into the contact upright.
Of course, Tuima is yellow-carded. What he should have done is bend down and receive around 240kg of charging rugby player head-on. Never mind that McGuigan makes the whole situation entirely more dangerous, never mind that Tuima is visibly knocked backwards, never mind that McGuigan is the latcher and not the ball-carrier and thus nobody Tuima really needs to take into consideration. No no, Tuima is a tackler, so he must be a very naughty boy and punished for every microcosm of technique he didn’t quite get right.
Head injuries are a problem. But when the cases do have their day in court, tackles like Tuima’s will not be evidence for the prosecution, and it’s time the lawmakers and enforcers recognise this and stop punishing them as such.