RFU Championship – The lessons from London Welsh

All the media attention may be on the Six Nations, but I am looking forward to hearing how the RFU plans to revitalise the Championship.Somehow, the wealthiest national governing body in world rugby has allowed its second-tier competition to sink into disrepair.

Compared to the Premiership, it’s a veritable slum. There are reports of players not only earning well below the living wage, but also having to cover their own medical expenses.Many of these players have chosen to abandon the game. Others didn’t even get that choice. A fortnight ago London Welsh was expunged from the league – and possibly the history books – after Twickenham declared the club’s financial position to be “untenable”.

Sickeningly, the historic side’s one major misstep was in becoming too successful. Promotion to the top flight in 2012 saw them forced to abandon Old Deer Park, their spiritual home, for an industrial estate near Oxford. There they had the 10,000 seats as required by Premiership Rugby. Unfortunately, the bums needed to fill them remained back in Richmond.

The subsequent three seasons saw the Exiles relegated, promoted again and relegated again. This yo-yoing caused such a bout of the bends that they failed to score a single win during the length of the 2014/15 season. Worse, a host of hasty, stop-the-rot signings left them with a mountain of unresolved debts.

The rest is history; London Welsh are now history.

And with terminal failure so closely entwined with fleeting success, who would now want to take up the poisoned chalice of promotion? Perhaps that’s the gist of the RFU’s imminent reveal: a Premiership ring-fenced for the safety of all.

It’s easy to point accusatory fingers at Twickers, but it’s not fair. They can’t be expected to bankroll “untenable” enterprises. Like it or not, professional rugby is a business: it’s sink or swim, and only the fittest survive.

So perhaps we should just let nature take its course. Perhaps rugby in England just isn’t big enough to support two tiers of professionalism.

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

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Why has Leicester not fallen in love with the Rugby World Cup?

It is arguably the biggest rugby city in England, boasting the country’s biggest team, biggest club stadium and biggest trophy cabinet.
If there is one place where the Rugby World Cup should be biggest this autumn, it is Leicester. And yet, two months before the start of the second largest sporting event Britain has staged in recent years, one of rugby’s traditional heartlands is proving to be the tournament’s greatest headache.
Leicester remains the only place at which none of its allotted games have sold out. All three matches still have tickets available. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the city is threatening single-handedly to prevent World Cup organisers reaching their target of selling out the entire tournament.

Perhaps the answer lies in where the games are being held. Despite hosting games at both the 1991 and 1999 World Cups, and being among the venues submitted in England’s 2015 bid in 2009, the home of Leicester Tigers was suddenly branded unsuitable by the tournament’s evaluation committee. Instead, the King Power, or as the organisers insist on calling it, the Leicester City Stadium, was chosen. And to rub salt in the Tigers’ wound, it lies only a hefty kick away from Welford Road.

The outcry was immediate. “The mildest description is outrage,” said Tigers chief executive Simon Cohen.”We thought it was absolutely disgraceful that Welford Road, which is a hotbed of English rugby, wasn’t going to feature in an English World Cup”.
Attempts to overturn the decision –which even included local MP Jon Ashworth raising the matter in Parliament, and petitioning from the region’s chief constable, bishop and both its vice-chancellors – proved futile.
World Rugby, the governing body, stood by a recent tightening of its regulations, which meant Leicester’s pitch, was deemed two metres too narrow, with the ground also found not to meet minimum requirements on changing rooms, anti-doping, and broadcast and media facilities.
Tigers supporters might have expected to be appeased with some plum World Cup ties at affordable prices, but those hopes were crushed when they were handed three of the less attractive fixtures: Argentina v Tonga, Canada v Romania and Argentina v Namibia. With tickets costing anything up to £150, it was seen as another slap in the face for the city.

All this has even prompted what might be considered an attempt to hijack the tournament by the club, who have decided to erect an unofficial fan zone at Welford Road to show World Cup matches – including the two Argentinean matches at the King Power Stadium. There were rumours that World Rugby could try to block the Tigers erecting their own fanzone, although that would risk alienating further a rugby community they desperately want to win round.

Mike Miles
http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Bring back the 57 Old Farts

2015 being a year of anniversaries, someone mentioned the other day that it is 20 years since Will Carling’s pithy verdict on the RFU committee as “57 old farts” entered the sporting lexicon. The phrase nowadays would probably only qualify as a wry compliment by social media standards, but, can we honestly say, hand on heavily-sponsored heart, that the amateur era’s buffers, blimps and blazers were worse than the game’s current administrators who replaced them?

Because a quick count of the issues stacking up within the game do not reflect terribly well on the current guardians of the union code.

It is not merely the rising stench from beneath the carpets at Premiership Rugby, where the serious matter of alleged salary cap breaches have seemingly been swept. Perhaps we should simply resign ourselves to the air-brushing of anything which conceivably threatens the commercial bottom line, particularly the latest huge broadcasting deal with BT Sport. Is it not too much to ask those who know the truth to have the guts to step forward to share the details with us, the paying fans?

The same sense of disquiet applies to the proposed moratorium on promotion and relegation to and from the Premiership from 2016/17. This is not an argument which can be had in isolation. Either the RFU, its leading clubs and English rugby in general want a vibrant, healthy second tier beneath the Premiership or they do not. Simply pulling up the relegation drawbridge , imposing a low ceiling on the funding available to those outside the magic circle and insisting everything will be rosy for the disenfranchised majority is, at best, wishful thinking.
Where is the rugby equivalent of Bournemouth, just promoted to football’s billionaire playground, going to come from?

With the World Cup only months away, where is the breadth of vision at a time when rugby union has a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to spread its gospel. A recent letter to “Rugby World” put it succinctly: “Have you noticed the air of excitement in Britain about the World Cup? No, neither have I. With less than five months to go, the silence in anything but the rugby press is deafening.”The ousting of Debbie Jevans as the figurehead of England Rugby 2015 less than six months before the start of the tournament was accompanied by a deafening radio silence from Twickenham. The RFU used to be more open in the days when its phone number was ex-directory.

To finish off on Europe…Toulon have just won the inaugural European Champions Cup, the successor to the Heineken Cup. But the supposed new broom in Europe still has work to do on the perception front. Four of the five main sponsorship slots for this new completion remain unfilled. The only blue chip sponsor on board is……Heineken. And let’s not forget that a blizzard of free tickets was required to boost the attendance at European rugby’s flagship Twickenham final between two French sides…

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

RWC2015 Tickets and Fan zones

Tickets for Rugby World Cup 2015 go on sale this month via Ticketmaster. Lets hope they don’t encounter the same technical problems experienced by the recent Commonwealth Games

The most controversial method to obtain tickets  ( and supposedly contrary to RWC 2015’s terms and conditions) is from travel and hospitality packages that have been on sale since the beginning of the year. Tickets have already found their way on to the secondary market at a huge markup – and no doubt others will follow after September.

 

RWC2015 have announced that most of the host cities will have Fan Zones,presumably similar to those at recent soccer World Cups.They have also said that venues will have dedicated Rugby World food and drink outlets serving dishes that celebrate the best of English cuisine and in some cases carry a rugby theme……..presumably at World Cup prices.

But  will fans be allowed to take their own food and drink into the stadium? Attending the World Cup in Germany in 2006 I can remember being forced to discard my bottles of water on a hot day before I could enter the stadium, and then being obliged to buy more inside to put more money into FIFA’s bulging coffers.

 

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

How much injury time Ref?

In his 1997 book “Mud,Blood and Money”,Ian Malin wrote that  “surely the referee should make an instant decision,albeit perhaps a flawed one,rather than rely on an action replay? Here is another innovation (he was commenting on a rugby league game) that alienates the paying customer.

Well,there  was a lot to talk about at the Recreation Ground last Saturday. Which is just as well because the match against Worcester lasted 18min 30sec above and beyond the usual 80,despite an absence of serious injuries. This is the latest episode of referees becoming slaves to technology. Referee Carley spent five minutes midway through the first half deciding whether Sam Betty (who eventually received a yellow card) had taken out Horacio Agulla with an inconspicuous challenge.

The sellout crowd were forced to wait for the important fourth try;forced to wait because of Worcester’s cussed defiance and forced to wait because of the officiating problem that is becoming endemic in the professional game. This was a decent content-unfortunately it was 18 minutes too long.