Loose Pass: The Premiership crisis, fun in France and a much needed law tweak

Lawrence Nolan
Loose Pass image 6 June 2023.jpg

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the Premiership crisis, fun in France and a tweak to the law we are starting to need more and more…

The next steps

They’d be decisive, they said. The regulations would be strictly applied they said. There’d be, at worst, no more drawing out of club demises. We’d get clarity and order.

And yet here we are, more than a fortnight after London Irish were issued a deadline to show themselves shipshape financially for next season, months after the saviour US consortium failed to come up with the initial paperwork. Owner Mick Crossan is not turning up to meetings. Salaries are not being paid. The tax man wants to wind the club up. So when do the clarity and order actually arrive? How much more drawn-out can the demise of a club be?

Granted, the latest extension was to ensure the employees actually got their salaries in May, which is kind, but when even that didn’t really happen (everybody was paid half) surely the bell should have tolled?

What is clear now is that the crisis is league-wide. 23 per cent of the Premiership stakeholding clubs are gone (assuming London Irish do not find a miracle) and while a 10-team league will almost completely cut away the international/club calendar overlap which has devalued so much of the Premiership, those 10 clubs are still, according to recent reports, losing a combined GBP 4m a year. Some are more sustainable than others, but nothing about the overall picture is sustainable.

The government-appointed advisors stepping in as a sign that not only is there a systemic problem but also that those running the game have been very lax in their management (especially considering the state of England’s current government). The way the Exiles’ saga is dragging on is also symptomatic of this.

“Rugby union has a unique opportunity to reshape its future strategic financial and sporting direction,” read the press release announcing the intervention of the strategic advisors. But this follows a sentence about attracting new capital investment, which seems bizarre considering the glaring lack of angel investors coming to the clubs’ rescue. The plan to increase the salary cap by nearly 30 per cent next season also does not feel right.

The RFU, and indeed, Premier Rugby might do very well to forget about investment at the top in the short term and look downwards. Grassroots rugby is suffering too; the gap between the Premiership and Championship is all but insurmountable, while Championship clubs with significant potential are finding the barriers to entry too onerous to bother with. English rugby is suffering top and bottom, only a deep-reaching cultural strategic change will pull it back into shape. The years in between will be, for the survivors, lean indeed.

The most colourful match of the year?

Away from all that, yet also a handy reminder of how well a sport can develop if well-managed, Loose Pass’ favourite fixture of the year arrived on Saturday.

The Top 14 promotion play-off might look like a clumsy addition to the calendar on paper, but given that it is usually a David-Goliath fixture, with David frequently at home to boot, you are never left wanting for atmosphere, emotion and drama: all the things that make a sport good, in fact.

Ultimately, this year’s match lacked a bit in final-minute drama, as Perpignan ran away with it in the final 20. Had Grenoble not made numerous handling errors in handy positions in the first half, it could have been quite different.

Yet the rugby played was exhilarating, breathless stuff in front of a packed stadium of 21,000 (which included 5,000 travelling Perpignan fans who created a restless mass of colour in the one corner). Every carry was roared on, every error lamented, every point celebrated as though it was the winning point. The celebration of Grenoble’s first-half try was seismic. The pitch invasion by Perpignan fans at the end might not be what we always want to see, yet it was hard for any criticism of decorum to cut past the palpable emotion.

The French leagues – the Pro D2 is an excellent second tier – continue to thrive both in terms of spectacle and quality; the Lyon-Bordeaux play-off on Sunday was vastly superior to either of the Premiership semi-finals. The talk in France is not often dry talk of ‘raising capital’ or strategic direction, but of keeping fans happy and ensuring the games are good. If English rugby needs an injection of something or a couple of consultants to help with direction, they could do worse than asking their French counterparts.

Kremer card could have been avoided

We’ll be explicit to start here: Marcos Kremer’s attempted clearout on Finn Russell was wildly stupid. He could not have failed to see Russell’s head, nor was there any likelihood that Russell might move.

Yet after the contact, Kremer did almost muscle his way through for what, head contact to Russell notwithstanding, would have been an impressive counter-ruck, which despite the foul play, was clearly his intention.

But what’s to do here? Russell was off his feet over the ball, his head almost the only point of contact available, while the Racing number eight was almost coming around the side of the ruck to defend it. It was a static moment, which is an ideal one to go for a cheeky counter and disrupt the scrum-half. Kremer’s decision was ill-advised, but it was, in our opinion, a rugby act gone wrong rather than an act of malice. A counter-ruck opportunity was on, at heavy physical risk to the attacking team.

To Loose Pass’ thinking, it is almost the same sort of risk as Ben Ryan and Loose Pass have talked about at jackal time, where legal acts make players unwitting targets for clearouts which have huge potential to go wrong.

What would solve this? We reckon that a referee could declare a ruck over, especially in the situation where Kremer’s charge occurred, where the ball is back and won and defenders have been cleaned out one time; the ‘use it’ call, if made a bit quicker than it currently is, could serve this purpose and prevent this risky situation occurring.

Kremer’s charge was a silly one and he deserved the red card, but he wasn’t breaking the law in terms of what he wanted to achieve. May be we can manipulate the law to lower the risk of this happening?

READ MORE: WATCH: Marcos Kremer red carded for shocking clash with Finn Russell in Top 14