Brickbats and Backslaps : Rugby’s all the talk…

This week has been an interesting one for Rugby on and off the field. The administrators this week seemed to have their run of the media circle, with news that Super Rugby was dropping two, three, who knows how many teams from the comp to the recent news of a unified fixture list for international rugby.

Throw in the news that two of the biggest teams in French rugby are merging, and you have a pretty interesting week for the game no matter where you stand.

Professionalism in all aspects in rugby is only about twenty odd years old, which is still very young in age if you look at the other big boys on the field. Everyone still has some harking for the good old days where beer was drunk at half time and that you were paid to sit in the office and then played the sport for fun, even if you played for your country. These days, money talks and everything seems to have walked.

Navigating the business of sport is not easy, and administrators the world over now have a full time responsibility to govern a sport that is still in most places, like Asia, a passion project run by volunteers who do it for the love of the game. The money in the game is not at any level of the other relatable football “codes” – the round ball and its distant American cousin specifically.

So thus this whole business of franchises being dropped, clubs being merged is a whole very surreal. Can you imagine if Real Madrid and Barcelona decided one day to merge into one club? Well it happened in France. The winners for the past two seasons in the Top 14 suddenly announced this week that come next year, there will only be one club in Paris. Insiders note that nothing was told to the governing body or even to the players. Nothing was said and now everyone is wondering what is next. Fast support structures underpin a professional club, and to just fold and merge is no easy task. But when your club is in private ownership, then anything can happen.

Melbourne Rebels Owner Andrew Cox is one of the few private owners in the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition. He is fuming about all the speculation around the revamp of the competition that might see up to 3 teams dropped. No one knows and its really becoming like a game of whispers. Cox has gone to the media to vent his concerns, “We are committed to the competition, and this is destabilising to our sponsors, our members, our fans and, importantly, our players. We have a match (on Friday night) and yet this is what we’re focused on,” Cox told The Australian in relation to all the rumours.

My take is that the Rebels, while they are not doing well (or even close to it ) at the moment on the pitch, they are certainly one of the most structured and sustainable off it. This is comparison to the other Australian franchises which are owned or heavily funded by the national union. It just makes more sense to have more private support, and have franchises that want to make money and be sustainable. The beer for halftime needs to be bought by someone after all.

With all that going on, the other news was that World Rugby, the governing body that rules all, had finally sorted out a calendar where everyone was happy when it game to international games. Again, this is where Rugby is still trying to catch up. Unlike football where the top leagues and top international teams are focused mainly in the northern hemisphere, Rugby has to worry about 2 sides of the coin literally.

Different hemispheres mean different seasons, and hence different leagues and international windows. Not an easy task really and it is not going to be solved overnight for sure. Is the current proposal from 2020 the solution? Not by a long shot for me, but it is baby steps towards that. There are too many individual stakeholders that want their own thing, and that includes the various governing bodies in each country. At the end of the day, a global calendar will benefit everyone, but it still has to make sense on all fronts.

So a lot to think about, but what is happening on the pitch? Well England seem to be dominating and want to play the All Blacks, and they are looking at a resurgence at the Sevens game as well, after their win over South Africa in Canada last week. This sets up perfectly when the HSBC Sevens series moves to Hong Kong and Singapore. The Singapore Sevens was a great event last year, so will be heartening to see if the crowds come back for another year. Asia is truly spoilt with two great rugby events across 2 consecutive weekends, not to mention Super Rugby in Singapore as well.