This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with transfers, talking back and paywall TV…
No sudden moves
Blair Kinghorn’s big farewell from Edinburgh was messed up by another win for the eyebrow-raising Benetton side at the weekend, and while you’d wish him nothing but well from a move that is clearly an upgrade, the whole situation left Loose Pass feeling a little uneasy.
Release fees? Really? Is rugby about to move into that zone? In a time when clubs are going pop left, right and centre and sustainability, salary caps, budget management and such are all becoming watchwords, are we going to get sucked into clubs or teams or regions feeling such a need for money that they’d be persuaded to sell off their assets mid-season? Are we going to open ourselves to the cash-rich clubs flinging their bucks around whenever they like in order to defend their position?
And more pertinently, are we going to open ourselves to clubs feeling the need for short-term success or cover, opening a chequebook to ‘ensure’ it and then either failing catastrophically to get it or finding, at the end of the season, that the cheques are bouncing and the bailiffs are suiting up?
It’s impossible to rein the French clubs in financially; considering they all operate under pretty stringent financial regulations it would be pointless to do so as well. But this development – and it was preceded by Melvin Jaminet being ‘transferred’ mid-season from Toulouse to Toulon – serves really only to make rugby like football, not better than it. Copying a model that operates in another sport and in another, somewhat surreal, financial world is not a blueprint for success for a sport which is frequently tiptoeing on the edge of financial disaster.
Who could stop this happening is unclear. But surely you’d have to hope that it’s not the sort of thing that gets perpetuated – lest leagues start losing their profile players mid-season and their gloss as a result; that would serve nobody.
Yakkety-yak (don’t talk back)
So, what to make of the Luke Pearce-Owen Farrell incident? Anything at all?
Referees are, of course, human too. That’s why they make so many mistakes, of course. There’s only so many times you can be told how to do your job before getting uppity about it; referees are told how to do it minute after minute every week.
Less mentioned about the incident is just how much, in general, Saracens players (Bristol’s weren’t entirely innocent either) were talking to Mr. Pearce during the game, particularly in a first half in which Saracens seemed out of kilter despite looking like they could turn into the better team any moment. There were plenty of mistakes, while Bristol enjoyed by far their best period during the second quarter, where they took the lead. And were quieter. The correlation between those two was extraordinary.
For a while, and during the period leading up to the incident (around the hour mark), it still looked as though the home side might stumble and as the frustration grew (along, it should be noted, with their superiority), so did the volume of their opinions to Mr. Pearce. Farrell himself had a remarkably inconsistent game, setting up tries with delicious cross-kicks and scoring one try himself, yet spraying the ball from the tee like a sprinkler.
So nobody was in a good mood at that point.
🎥 ICYMI: The exchange between Owen Farrell and referee Luke Pearce.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) November 27, 2023
And so nobody reacted well. Mr. Pearce might reflect that if he was getting worn out by players offering their opinions, a quick penalty for backchat might have stopped it all there and then rather than a bit of escalatory sarcasm. Farrell might reflect that moaning about a decision not going exactly the way he wanted it to do is likely to get a rebuke; if you behave like a child, you can also occasionally expect to be treated like one. Carrying on the point-scoring by claiming rudeness was an extra layer of childishness.
We have been here before in rugby generally though: remember Bryce Lawrence’s “your ears are big enough” put down? Or Nigel Owens’ “I’m not sure we’ve met, but I’m the referee”? Or any of the referee put-downs in this reel? Rugby referees don’t take any grief from players! None of them accused the respective referee of rudeness, none of them did much else except listen and take the scolding. It would have been a lot better for all if Farrell had done the same.
It’s not just the youngsters
The Six Nations remains that most stubborn of beasts: a major sporting event not on the ‘general public interest’ protection list that has not yet disappeared behind a paywall. But the clock is ticking.
And while it is absolutely true that taking the games away from the BBC and ITV would indeed make them all the more difficult for the future players of the game to watch, we’re probably at the point, in terms of technical know-how and pay TV saturation, where that risk has become lower.
But spare a thought for those of a generation which simply does not want, need or understand how to get paywall TV, or who are just too advanced in years to bother paying for it. That is a wise and deserving audience, which has stayed with the game through all its guises, through all the sponsors, all the political squabbles, all the different weird and wonderful tournaments and which looks forward every year to one of, if not the, game’s greatest tradition.
Putting the Six Nations behind a paywall will sever the game from its past, as well as mitigating its future.