Thursday, January 29, 2015

Will Money & Power Affect The National Teams?


Now the pool rounds of the European competitions have been completed and a fantastic, exciting, taken to the wire affair it has been and we move towards the 6 Nations, I  find myself reflecting once again on the effect that the money-men are having and will continue to have on the club game and ergo the knock-on effect to the National game?

THE DEVELOPING PROBLEM:

1. Is it correct to assume only those clubs with huge financial backers will ultimately achieve top success? e.g. RC Toulon, or the French Baa Baas as I have seen an apt description of recently or Racing Metro or Sarries, Bath etc.

2. The disproportionate and divisive monetary allocation within the leagues e.g. The current complaint from London Welsh as to their payments within the English Premiership

3. The disproportionate money from TV deals. e.g French Top 14 = Circa €60M, English Premiership = Circa €24M and Pro 12 = Circa €12.

4. The uber control that some of these money-men have. The likes of Premiership Chief Executive, Mark McCafferty; Sarries chairman Nigel Wray and Baths Bruce Craig, then of course our old friends in La Belle France, millionaire owners of Racing Metro (Jacky Lorenzetti), Toulon (Mourad Boudjellal) and Clermont Auvergne (Eric De Cromieres). Their financial and power control over the game, how it’s played, when it’s played, forcing changes through that have NOT been ratified by IRB / World Rugby e.g. setting the losing BP from 7pts gap to 4 this season in the French Top 14, all show that it is a handful of select individuals who ultimately will stop at nothing to get what THEY want.  

Even within the Irish setup there is a pecking order and I recently questioned whether Connacht Rugby had a fair opportunity to continue their current successes without sufficient, adequate and equal support in all areas within an IRFU setup that both historically and geographically may deal with other Provinces with more favourably?

It would be easy to say that that European Rugby is going or for some clubs has gone the same way as European Football with a handful of clubs in each country having both a controlling influence in monetary, player acquisition and control through what in reality is a non-footballing management organisation of their own making with the actual Football Association, charged with overseeing professional football in England some may say an almost bystander “Allowed” to oversee the lower leagues. There have also been several attempts to set up a European League but to date that hasn’t been successful. Will this ultimately become the same for Rugby? I see it happening with the English Premiership & the English RFU already?

SO WHAT?:

Well the knock on effect of this separating of Tier clubs within each of the 3 leagues into effectively Haves & Have Nots, means that the focus of these money-men is their individual clubs and nothing else…..certainly they don’t appear to give a care for the National teams?

In recent years we saw Wales as the ascending National team from the British & Irish Isles yet their Regional club form didn’t match that? It even allowed good old Mr Gatland to have such a controlling influence on the touring Lions team that he could bring in a WELSH player, out of the Welsh National team for 2 years, currently playing in Japan into the Lions side at short notice when there were PLENTY of available talent back home in UK & Ireland?……………Oh yeah, and he left BOD out of the final winning match!!! (Been wanting to write those two bits in since they happened!). Anyhow at Regional level, Welsh Rugby has imploded and I don’t see it changing soon!!

The English team indeed has promised so much but come up short at both National and European Club levels. Scotland and it’s 2 Regional clubs have all failed to deliver on both stages despite Glasgow Warriors getting closer by the year in Pro 12. Unless significant monetary and akin support is ploughed into a long term venture in Scotland, I cannot see them developing at either level despite having Vern Cotter as their new National Coach?

As for the Irish? Well despite the best efforts of certain English & French rugby Nouveau Aristocrats using Irish success in both Heineken & Amlin Cups as an excuse to setup their new overarching body in a clear attempt to sway the balance of power, money & ultimately success their way, the 4 Irish Provinces are all doing ok albeit there appears to be in irreverence towards the standards of the Pro 12 in comparison with their French & English counterparts by those outside of the Celtic nations? 

This season unfortunately both Ulster and Munster have fallen short of their usual levels but this is more owing to player availability and coaching changes than any longer term effect I suspect. Connacht have been a real surprise and appear to have secured both players and coach to continue that rise. Time will tell. I don’t believe we will ever stop some class players going to England or France to dare I say it, improve their game in the widest sense. Yes money is a key but for many, it’s the opportunity to play against world class players week in and week out.

Certainly the English Premiership & Top 14 bring a difference in certain levels. Plus of course merely experiencing new horizons will develop a player. 

What therefore of the Irish National team? Well is it down to the fact that the IRFU has in place procedures to ensure that only a few Non Irish Qualified players play for our Provinces? Is it merely that fact that “Saint Joe” Schmidt has taken over at the helm? Is it indeed a mix of all? Will we be able to compete at both European and National levels and achieve the ultimate successes in both with the IRFUs setup and limitations in place?

Well a brief look at Italy where their club teams are not even at the correct levels to be playing in the Pro 12 owing to lack of financial and other support, let alone their overall player capabilities. Oh and NO they shouldn’t be automatically guaranteed a European place for their highest placed Pro 12 team. 

With the French focusing more on their top clubs and the power / money situation and the self centred approach to club success meaning the National side has failed to achieve what one would expect of them in the last few years, you may agree that yes, the money & power issues within European Club rugby IS affecting the National game. 

THE FUTURE:

I believe that everything comes in waves, periods of success and periods of austerity, in title aspects anyhow. Scotland, Wales and Italy have huge Organisational Development, Structural and Financial issues to be addressed before they will achieve at either Club or National level.

France will never exploit the capabilities they have unless they cap the number of external players playing in the Top 14 leagues top 6 or so teams. The French Rugby Union like the English RFU need to put in place via their governments if required measures to combat multi-billionaires taking a controlling stake either through money or power of the clubs which in turn places “Expectations” on National coaches on who to pick and who is available and when they play and when the players are released because the billionaires in “Control” pay their huge wage bills and they’ll want  compensation if “Their” player gets injured on National duty etc etc etc…………...?

Certainly I would once again state the question, “What is the role of World Rugby (Previously IRB) in policing all this?”
It has oftentimes been said that you never know which French team will turn up on the bus on match day, well unless they change what’s happening with the influx of world players coming in, it’ll be a team mainly from their Pro D2!

I suspect that if England fail to either win or have an extremely good showing in RWC 15 this year, there’ll be a huge introspective re-appraisal at how the Premiership is being run.

As for Ireland, I suspect the IRFU have got it right or at least are attempting to get a happy medium by playing the long term game, developing home grown talent and minimising the numbers of NIQ players within our Provincial setup. Their Irish Development Plan & Vision is worth a read to understand where we are aiming for. 

Will we still be able to regain the European successes that Ulster, Munster & Leinster have previously enjoyed with this approach? Yes, I believe we can and it will be the example for many developing countries to aspire to.…..That said, the IRFU may need to relax their stance on NIQ players within our Provincial setup to keep both the standard of playing and the interest for fans at the right level? Likewise, we still need to find enough funds either corporately or privately to keep the current and developing world class Irish players at home. 

As for the playing levels of teams in the Pro 12….I refer to Wales, Scotland & Italy above and how they need to internally sort their own issues otherwise, it will remain the dominance of our Provinces with the odd non-irish team being a threat. 

There ARE however, still four Pro 12 teams in the Challenge Cup ¼ finals along with 4 English and not a Frenchie to be seen…………… Perhaps a happy medium between money and home grown talent with a mix of non-national qualified players would be better for rugby all round?

Oh as for players whose ancestry is from a certain country………..or who become qualified by years spent in that country………….well that’s another debate!

@bigjoeshep is the Owner and Head of Information & Knowledge Management atDigital Knowledge Zone.   An avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan, he came to rugby at the late age of 24, was a tight head prop, had at least 2 good runs in every game and retired at only 36 after 3 operations on his legs and now forms the 4th "virtual" person in a front row each time his beloved teams are playing (much to the annoyance of his suffering girlfriend who has to put up with being "embraced" by the Big Fella at each scrum!!!)

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