Rugby follows football….Oh dear

Wasps were comfortably holding on to their 13-5 lead against Northampton last weekend, when the referee awarded the home side a penalty after Wasps’ Jimmy Gopperth gave him some verbals.At one stage his indiscretion threatened to cost his team the match, and his coach, Dai young, pointed out that while it is difficult for players not to shout at a referee in the heat of the moment, players have been made aware of the Premiership crackdown on dissent, and should not be allowed to fulminate like footballers.

 

In the same match Saints full back Ben Foden was clattered late by Nathan Hughes, and had a long look at the referee before writhing around in pain. He is not the first rugby player taken to rolling around on the floor after being body-checked or late tackled and then casting a beady eye on the referee or touch-judge to see if their con act has worked. Obviously it’s football’s fault, a sport long plagued by players as if they were auditioning for Swan Lake.

 

At the Bristol/Exeter match over the same weekend there were reports of a “skirmish” between rival fans in the South Stand at Ashton Gate.  In the grand scheme of things there will be those rugby apologists who argue that it was only a flashpoint incident, and that such booze-filled altercations have been routine down the years at football grounds. And after all, Ashton Gate also hosts Bristol City, so perhaps there was something in the air.

 

But it ill-behoves rugby to try and claim any moral high ground up against football. Consider that we have just had Chris Ashworth’s biting incident, an act of gouging by Brive fly-half Matthieu Ugalde in France’s Top 14, reports in New Zealand of a “lewd” evening involving a Super Rugby franchise , and a young player spared jail for a vicious assault as it might impact on his developing career.

 

Rugby can certainly not afford to be smug.

 

 

 

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

Bums on European seats wanted…again

Now that the dust has settled on some exhilarating stuff in last weekend’s Champions Cup the organisers should be asking a searching question: “Where have all the fans gone?”

At the quarter-final stage five years ago heavy support was generated all round – 55,000 in Barcelona, 49,762 in Dublin, 32,052 in San Sebastian and 21,309 in Milton Keynes, adding up to almost 160,000. This season’s total of 68,122 therefore represented a drop of 60 per cent.

I watched both semi-finals on television and the most telling image was the empty spaces at the Madejski Stadium and the City Ground in Nottingham. The aggregate total for the two games was 38,968. These are not figures that speak of a competition in the rudest of health. The aggregate attendance for last season’s semi-finals in St Etienne and Marseille was almost 77,000.

 

After all the only team that had to travel any real distance were Racing, and it is simply not good enough to plead that the likes of Saracens or even Wasps despite their Ricoh upturn in support, do not draw big numbers. Leicester Tigers are not regular visitors to European semi-finals but it seems many of the Welford Road regulars could not be bothered to travel the few miles to Nottingham. The last time Leicester played a semi-final at the city Ground, in 2002, they attracted a crowd of 29,849.

 

The absence of the well-supported Irish sides Munster, Leinster and Ulster is one factor in the decline. But there have been recurrent issues with knockout attendances involving Saracens as the home side. In both 2013 and 2014 their semi-finals at Twickenham were played in a stadium two-thirds empty, in contrast to last season’s vibrant occasion at St Etienne’s Stade Geoffroy Guichard when Clermont Auvergne’s “yellow army” turned up en noisy masse.

But then 80,000 turned up to watch Saracens at Wembley the other week. So how come? Saracens plan over a 12-month period for their Wembley outing, and pricing is a key part of the jigsaw they put together. Surely better to sell at a reduced cost. It is not the rugby product that is the issue; it is the pricing, with a range of £17.50 to £60 coming in at around £40 a ticket for the European semis.

If pricing and marketing is one failure another is timing. In the fractious talks that preceded the forming of the new competition there was pressure from the English and French clubs to free up the  calendar at the end of May so that the climax of the domestic season, particularly in France, would hold centre stage.

The squeeze came in Europe. The final itself was even earlier last season, May 2 at Twickenham, and although it has been pushed into a more appropriate slot this season, May 14 in Lyon, the two-week turnaround between the quarters and the semi has not worked. The most difficult game to sell in the entire competition is a semi-final package at neutral venues. A 14-day window is ridiculously restricted.

The organisers are under pressure to deliver profits back to the clubs who now own and run the competition. They need to sacrifice any short-term gain for long-term commitment from the public to this competition.

 

Mike Miles

 

www.scrumdown.org.uk

 

mike.miles@scrumdown.org.uk

 

 

Good Bye to Adams Park

It has never been easy to love Adams Park. It sits at the end of an industrial estate, a cul-de-sac of deserted office and factory space on a Sunday, a bunged-up traffic black-spot, forlorn, uninspiring, a far remove from a raucous bear-bit. And it’s not even in London!

Wasps have not been a London club for a decade, but nomads for some while now, and have made a virtue of it, the waifs and strays that banded together and took on the world to such good effect.

You do wonder if the move to Coventry will work. You imagine how desolate the 32,000 capacity Rioch might be on match day with the diehards rattling around inside. It will be a case of starting over. When Wasps moved to Loftus Road they struggled to attract gates of more than 5,000. They have never managed to attract more than a decent smattering of supporters at Adams Park, a ballpark figure of 6,000.(Today’s attendance was 5842). Leicester even managed to pull in 22,639 for the visit of Newcastle. They now not only need their current fans to remain loyal, which will be difficult enough with travelling costs rising and more time needed to get home matches, but to attract thousands of new ones . It will take time.

Meanwhile, there was a game to be played.
Today’s match against hitherto winless London Welsh was the club’s final Premiership fixture at Adams Park. The last game of all is a European rugby Champions Cup match-up against Castres in four weeks. For the record, today’s was Wasps’ 131st Premiership game at Adams Park, but only the second against London Welsh. (The first game there was in September 2002, a 38-35 win over Bristol)

The Exiles are rock bottom of the Premiership, having gleaned one point, conceded 36 tries and 272 points in their opening six games. Now make that 47 tries and 343 points. Nathan Hughes got the ball rolling with a try with just a minute gone before Johnson,Sailosi Tagicakibau and Hughes again made it 26-0 at half-time. Things got completely out of hand for Welsh in the second period as Wade and Johnson completed their hat tricks while Tom Varndell and Joe Simpson also touched down to make it 11 tries in total for the hosts. At least Wasps ended their Aviva Premiership Rugby tenure at Adams Park in style.

Once a Wasp, now a Sarrie?

There has been a lot of coverage of Wasps’ proposed move to Coventry, much  of it focusing on the potential effect on other West Midlands rugby clubs.

There is no doubt competition in the Midlands is going to be hard for a side which is leaving its already modest fan base two hours to the south.But what will be the reaction of those “London ” clubs they are leaving behind. Presumably the Premiership bosses must be hoping London Welsh stay up, or the traditional “London Double Header” start to the season disappears from their planning.

I fully expect Saracens to mount some over-the -top campaign or other to try and win over the disaffected fans Wasps will leave behind. When Sarries left Bramley Road 20 years ago to move first to Enfield,then to Watford, there was an almighty roar  from the faithful, but the decision to offend these men and their dogs looks quaint and endearing now when you survey their splendid new home at Allianz Park.

Mind you, Sarries’ balance sheet may not bear much in the way of scrutiny just yet…..

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

Wasps to be sent to Coventry?

Wasps have dropped London from their name for the forthcoming season, and are now believed to be drawing up plans to relocate the club away from Wycombe to the West Midlands, specifically Coventry’s Ricoh Arena.Wasps are no stranger to the ground, having played a number of Heineken Cup games there in the past.

Land Rover have their headquarters in the area, and the new club sponsors are Land Rover owners Tata Motors Limited

Wasps would not be the only rugby team to have shifted location to find a permanent home in recent years, but there is no denying that those clubs who are leading such a nomadic existence are the one who find it harder to create the home atmosphere found in the West of England or Leicester.

One can appreciate Wasps’ need to move and find a more suitable home, but surely it should be closed to their traditional home and not further away?

Mike Miles

http://www.scrumdown.org.uk

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