If football is so bad, why is Rygby copying it?

A few weeks ago I asked why, if football is the evil spirit, rugby is aping it. I made a specific example of England’s cheque book in hand pursuit of Eddie Jones as the new England rugby coach.
Now Rugby Players Association boss Damian Hopley has claimed the topping-up of rugby’s Premiership stars is rife, and he even describes the current six-month rule relating to approaches as nonsense.”
Officially at least, Aviva Premiership clubs are unable to approach players from rival clubs until January 1, but the speculation surrounding transfer moves for Leicester’s Manu Tuilagi suggests the rule is routinely ignored. No doubt football is being blamed for that….

Now another row is brewing over the issue of whether foreign stars will make the England rugby team better or not. And of course the parallels with football are unmistakeable. The Three Lions flop at the World Cup, and the clubs are blamed for putting their own interests before the national team. But within weeks fans are flocking in through the gates to watch the latest Premier League soap opera. The English rugby team sets a record for their exit from their own World Cup but the fans still flock to watch their club sides. And with two European rounds gone and only one English defeat, who needs the world cup anyway? The widespread popularity of both sports is sustained by the success of club competitions.

The Aviva Premiership is due to increase its salary cap from next season, and it won’t take a genius to work out that much of this increased money will go into players’ pockets, and more than likely foreign players. A perfect example is Wasps’ Nathan Hughes, born in Lautoka , Fiji, who learned his rugby in Auckland before coming to England. He chose not to represent his home country at the World Cup and is now qualified to play for England.
Hughes isn’t the first player to do this and he certainly won’t be the last and there is a distinct possibility that increases in the wage cap will encourage many more young players to make the journey to England.
And if they do young English players will not be playing for Premiership clubs. And ultimately Eddie Jones and his successors will have less quality Englishmen to choose from. Sounds familiar? It must be football’s fault….
Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

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Could Eddie Jones reignite the club v country row?

So Eddie Jones is now officially the latest savour of English rugby.

Shortly before his appointment (and when he must have known he was one of, if not THE favourite for the post) he gave an illuminating interview to ESPN about how he thought England needed to change in order to be successful. Top of his list, the central contracting of players. Without that he argued, not for the first time, England do not have enough control over their players.
“How can you manage your players when they are controlled by other organizations? Jones asked. “In my opinion, that is the single greatest task ahead of whoever is going to be appointed as the next England coach.”

Jones neatly evaded the issue at his Twickenham unveiling, but it is one that will not go away. New Zealand are the best example of how central contracting can be beneficial. If Steve Hansen wants Beauden Barrett to play at full-back because he thinks he would like to use him there, the Hurricanes will play him at full-back. The indecision over Sam Burgess’s position summed up the problem that exists here in England. Bath saw him as a flanker, England wanted him to play centre; the result-both sides and the player suffered.

Ultimately it is a question of priority. England is somewhat unique in that it has a genuinely thriving, partisan club game. France is the only other country that has a club game with a similar level of support and influence and it is surely not a coincidence that these are the two nations that wildly underachieved at the World Cup.

Many would argue that central contracts is a price worth paying, and the international game should take precedent. But there are plenty of club supporters who pay good money to watch their club play and would argue the opposite.

So herein lies the unanswerable question: how does England balance the need to encourage a thriving club game, with an international side that needs greater control over its players if it is to keep up with the likes of New Zealand, Australia and even Argentina – all of whom have it?

Within the round-ball community the steady erosion of the F.A.’s control over the game could be dated from their decision to be complicit in the formation of the Premier League in 1992. With it came the removal of an international cap as the pinnacle of a player’s ambitions.
The more astute minds at Twickenham must have watched this sorry saga unfold, and determined it would not be allowed to happen with the egg-shaped ball game.
Eddie Jones may or may not carry on with the same opinion. But there must be a few club owners twitching uncomfortably in their seats.

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

If Football is so bad,why is Rugby aping it?

Much was made of referee Nigel Owens’ put-down of Scotland’s Stuart Hogg, who had attempted to win a penalty by diving during his side’s Pool B defeat to South Africa at Newcastle United’s St. James’ Park. Owens reportedly said “If you want to dive like that again, come back here in two weeks and play.” My, how we laughed….
And on the eve of the rugby World Cup John Jeffrey, the chairman of the World Rugby match officials selection committee, reportedly told referees to crack down on what he called “football culture, of simulation, players appealing to the referee,” and horror of horrors, “diving.”

The phrase bandied about by the egg-shaped ball fraternity is usually “we mustn’t become like football.” But if people are throwing themselves over and disrespecting referees in rugby union the blame can hardly be laid at football’s door. To think a player at Saracens or Wasps watches Manchester United’s Ashley Young impersonate a sniper victim and then copies the crime in the Premiership is just plain daft.
To quote Christian Day, chairman of the Rugby Players’ Association “The game is becoming more and more professional, and more and more competitive and professional people will always look for the edge.” Rugby is not copying football. It is reading from the script that says: the bigger the rewards, the lower people will stoop to grab them.

After their humiliation at the World Cup (something rugby and football have in common lest we forget) the RFU have finally got round to sacking their coach, and are apparently prepared to spend whatever it takes on the best man. This is what humiliating defeat does to governing bodies blowing in the gale –force of media and public opinion. And here rugby is aping their football counterparts at the F.A.
They have had a zig-zag approach to coach recruitment for years, careering this way and that, not just changing managers but disowning any philosophy in the bruising aftermath of tournament failure.When home-grown did not work millions were thrown at Fabio Capello.
English football has tried to buy itself out of a pickle and now it appears the RFU will send out their head hunters abroad for the first time, armed with a big cheque book. For the RFU, as it has been with the F.A. for years, it is an admission of defeat. Though as rugby looks at a foreign coach perhaps there is a bigger question, again for both sports. Why do other countries so rarely want our coaches, at club or international level? Anyone for the Stuart Lancaster/David Moyes dream team?
Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

Does the country know a World Cup is taking place?

As someone who has probably watched more of the Rugby World Cup than is good for me I suppose I have rather taken it for granted that the majority of the British public, if not actually glued to their TV sets, are at least aware that the competition is taking place. After all, did not more than 11 million people watch England’s dramatic defeat by Wales on television?

So in order to see how much the UK population actually knew about the sport and competition a research agency decided to commission a UK wide survey to find out. Admittedly this was carried out a week prior to the competition kicking off, and surely some of those professing ignorance cannot have failed to pick up that maybe something was going on.
Nevertheless, though much has been written about the legacy from this World Cup, the results from the survey give an indicator as to just how far rugby has to go before it can evenly begin to rival the round-ball game in popularity.

To begin with, 32% of respondents had no idea that the competition was about to start, and 42.7% of the UK had no idea that the World Cup was actually been hosted in England.
More than half surveyed were unable to guess the correct number of points for a try, and 44% didn’t know that a game lasts 80 minutes.
Apparently a third of Londoners thought that Billy Twelvetrees had to be a fake name and not a current rugby player.
My favourite is that half the UK were unable to pick out Chris Robshaw as the England captain. 22% believed it was still Jonny Wilkinson, and 13.2% guessed that it was the television chef James Martin!
After the debacle against Wales Chris Robshaw probably wishes they were right……..
Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

What’s a World Cup legacy?

Across the land’s rugby clubs, pubs, bars and front rooms, more than 11 million people watched England’s dramatic defeat by Wales on television. Virtually the same number tuned in for the decisive loss to Australia a week later.
A large percentage of these millions will have been uninitiated in rugby union, but in search of a new sport to enjoy and fresh heroes to follow. But how many will come back? How many will find themselves hooked on the domestic game? The Aviva Premiership kicked off last weekend but unless you were already a rugby aficionado you could be excused for not noticing, such was the volume of media coverage still being given to the England-less World Cup.

Much has been written about the legacy from this World Cup, but “legacy” is a slippery word. And how do you deliver a “legacy” from the worst ever tournament by a host country? “What’s a legacy?” asked Leicester Tigers director of rugby, Richard Cockerill. “The game’s growing all the time and the Premiership’s a great competition. I don’t think it’s going to damage the game. Will it have grown a bit bigger if we’d got to a semi-final or a final and left as heroes instead of having those disappointing performances? Of course.”

Even so, it would take a brave person to argue that the 2015 World Cup will be a success for English rugby, but Steve Grainger, the RFU rugby development officer, is that man. He could point up to the 2,000 people signed up in fan zones to become referees or coaches, a quarter of those at the Manchester fan zone during the England-Uruguay dead rubber. This level of enthusiasm could also point to the untapped enthusiasm for rugby union outside the game’s southern heartlands, and the need to take England “on the road” away from Twickenham.
And since October 2012 the RFU has trained 2,915 new level-two coaches through the QBE Coaching Club, recruited 1,200 young rugby ambassadors and introduced rugby to 400 state secondary schools. But the test must be whether those who have picked up a rugby ball or entered a clubhouse for the first time because of this World Cup are still involved in the game by the time Japan 2019 rolls round.

Putting England’s failure to one side, any kid watching New Zealand or Australia or Japan could not wish for a better illustration of how rugby union, at its best, should be played. But across the mini-rugby pitches of the British Isles will seven year-olds be practising their Nehe Milner-Skudder sidesteps and asking for posters of Juan Imhoff for their bedroom walls? Probably not. But what they do need is more encouragement to run and pass, rather than thud and smash and blunder.

Australia booked their place in the semi-finals in the most dramatic fashion but a thrilling contest was overshadowed by a controversial finale and a debate that highlighted one of the sport’s problems, and the immense barrier preventing rugby union from becoming a truly global sport. The Laws are just too damm complicated! The Laws surely need to be simplified to avoid such confusion and allow the casual “legacy” supporter to engage fully with the sport rather than alienate them.
Rugby’s rules can be impenetrable even for the initiated but understanding the difference between “offside” and “going in from the side”, and even why these are offences is certain to bamboozle those trying to make sense of a game with a plethora of arcane rules and practices.
Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

Japan take on Samoa …and Milton Keynes

Japan……….26
Samoa………6

Attendance: 29,019

France had played Canada in an earlier World Cup game at Stadium MK. The report in The Times included a verdict on the venue. Heritage was “non-existent”, atmosphere was “manufactured but manic, with the full house determined to enjoy a big night out.” Crowd knowledge was “good enough, with a mixture of polite applause and the inevitable Mexican Waves.”Perhaps the prejudice against MK Dons,aka Franchise FC extends beyond the confines of SW9!

The Guardian also had a reporter snooping around the crowd. She pointed out that “if the rugby didn’t hold their attention, they could always cross the road to the multiplex, and there was plenty of shopping nearby.”
She considered Milton Keynes “the perfect locale for witness protection, if the number of people who admit to living there is anything to go by”

Sorry to disappoint her, but we have friends who have lived in Milton Keynes for years, and who were kind enough to offer my wife and I a lift to and from the stadium, so that we forsook the pleasure of the fan-buses or forking out £15 for a park-and-ride site.

And once you get into the stadium it is a delight. Chatting with other fans, most of whom were attending their first game at the ground, they were equally impressed, commenting on the comfort and legroom in the seating. The seats were high-backed and padded, similar to those at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. We were seated in the South Stand, behind one set of posts, where the biggest danger came from flying balls. There was even praise for the toilets, offering wide entrances, space, and hot running water. Such luxuries at a football ground!

After their exploits against South Africa there was no doubt that Japan were the crowd favourites. And this time they had had sufficient recovery time after their loss to Scotland. And once again they showed they are no longer fodder for the big guns, but a team who can bring legitimacy to rugby union’s claim to be a world sport. This match was all about their skill and endeavour.
The match was settled in a first half in which Japan produced a near-flawless performance to lead by 20 points. That left the second half as essentially an exercise in holding their gains, which they did comfortably.
As for Samoa, they were second best throughout, often losing discipline. Three men were yellow-carded.

Incidentally, the attendance of 29,019 was a record for the stadium for any sport.

Japan host the next Rugby World Cup in 2019, and after what was to befall the current hosts later that evening, should hopefully put up a better fight.
Current coach Eddie Jones is leaving after this World Cup. Just so long as they don’t employ Stuart Lancaster in his stead. Though Japan’s forwards coach, one ex-England captain Steve Borthwick, must be a candidate for any future England set-up.

One whinge. The match programme cost £10. A fair amount of editorial, but given that this was Match No 24, it contained not a jot about the previous 23 matches. No results, no table of points or try scorers and no tables for the four pools. It’s called information and in that respect the customer forking out his £10 is being short-changed.
It can be done. Wimbledon charges a similar amount for its programme, but it manages to contain a full statistical coverage up to the previous day’s play.
Mike Miles

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

France v Romania and Thoughts on West Hams new stadium

Wednesday September 23,2015
France v Romania
Rugby World Cup 2015 , Match 11
The Stadium,Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
East Stand,Entrance F,Block 230,Row 54,Seat 607, £35.00

France…….38
Romania…..11

Attendance: 50,626

Like most people my last visit to the Olympic Stadium had been to watch athletics at the 2012 Olympics. So when it was announced that a number of matches in this year’s Rugby World Cup would be played in “The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park”, to give it its full moniker, that had to be a venue worth going to. Factor in that I am a West Ham United supporter, and that in less than 12 twelve months they will be strutting around that same arena, well you had to see what it promises!

At a test event at the end of August featuring the Barbarians and Samoa the game descended into farce when the sprinklers came on and soaked the players during a break in play-more soggy Saturday than Super Saturday. And my infrequent visits to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium I was left with the impression of a magnificent ground but a misery to get to and an even bigger misery to get away from unless you are prepared to miss the last 20 minutes…something Arsenal supporters look willing to do.

The game kicked off at 8.00 so the tubes and Stratford Station were a mix of rugby fans, commuters and shoppers. The tournament organisers had copied the Olympic idea of “helpers” to direct fans but these were keeping a pretty low profile around the station and Westfields shopping centre in favour of massing around the stadium precincts, when it was pretty bloody obvious where you were going. So I adopted the time-honoured principle of following other fans. This route took me past the West Ham office selling the move, but was devoid of customers. Perhaps potential punters were checking out the stadium for real.

Avoid the inevitable late rush and entry is easy, the concourses are spacious, and finding your seat straightforward enough. I had paid £35 for a Category C seat, in the corner but high enough to follow all the action. The stadium also has two large screens at either end, and I hope these are retained when West Ham move in.

Rather like after the Olympics, there has been much talk of the legacy from this tournament, and it had been marketed to the non-rugby following fan as somewhere to bring the family. In front of me was a family with two young boys who clearly found the games on their i-pad a bigger attraction to what was happening on the pitch. If I’m honest I couldn’t blame them. The match took a long time to get going. I timed the first Mexican wave at 12 mins 30 sec.
The organisers are already boasting of how virtually every game has sold out. Certainly, the touts were out in force this evening. But you do wonder if much as the British like to attend such high profile sporting events (and this World Cup has been billed as the world’s 3rd largest sports event after the Olympics and its football equivalent) that is as far as their commitment will go.

My wife came with me. Paradoxically she hates crowds, and would only come on condition we left early. So as we walked back to Stratford Station 20 minutes before full-time, along a completely different route to that which we’d been directed before.
I hope West Ham attract 54,000 people on a regular basis. But if that means an hour afterwards being funnelled into Stratford station a lot of the gloss will disappear.

The referee was Jaco Peyper, who took charge of England’s opening game against Fiji, when one of the main talking points afterwards was the number of times he went to the TMO, and how long it took for a decision.
It was only 3-3 after 30 minutes, and by then, the TMO had ruled out a Romania try. Thankfully, the TMO could take the rest of the night off. Then it all unravelled for the Romanians.Paulica Ion was sent to the sin bin, and in his absence the French scored two tries. Both were converted by Parra from the touchline, and suddenly the French were 17-3 up and free from the burden of possible humiliation.
Romania kept France out for 25 minutes of the second half, before they let in three more tries.
But by then I was already on the way home. Those who stayed were clearly treated to an enjoyably harum-scarum final quarter.

The papers had their own verdicts on The Olympic Stadium: According to The Times it was:
-Noisy at times, cathedral-like at others
-Fair to say this was not a West Ham United Crowd (?)

The Guardian had even sent a reporter to report on the stadium. According to Owen Gibson “At last it was possible to get a tingling sense of how it might crackle on a big Premier League night or, in Karren Brady’s dreams, for big European matches.”
“Those expensive retractable seats-which Brady had pushed so hard for-had been rolled forward on three sides, creating odd platforms behind the lower tier. It remains a vast bowl, in many ways the polar opposite of Upton Park.”
“When the anthems rang out before kick-off, or when the French supporters tried to urge their players over the try-line, the noise had a tendency to drift into the night air. I was left with the impression that West Ham fans will have to go some to create an atmosphere opposing teams will find intimidating”.
But at least we Hammers fans can hope our team will deliver a better spectacle than this match.
Mike Miles

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk