As rugby union continues its development as a professional sport, Last Word on Rugby author Alistair Stokes asks the question:
Is Rugby Union Turning into Football?
Despite becoming professional back in the 1995/96 season (22 years ago), Rugby Union continues its transition into a professional sport. In this, we begin to see stark comparisons to certain issues plaguing the sport of Football (soccer).
Appealing for decisions
Over the last 3-4 years we’ve seen a spike in wages. French and English leagues have lead the way to sign big international names in the hope of improving both their squad and financial performance.
With the increased wages, the pressure on coaching and playing staff is higher than ever before. There are more financial implications when it comes to team’s success and entertainment factor, this is where the comparison to football (soccer) comes in. For a long time rugby fans have found pride in their teams on-field etiquette, widely lambasting football players for their antics. Appealing official’s decisions and milking it when it comes to the severity of gameplay impact and injuries regarding illegal contact are the standout issues for all to see.
At the risk of sounding like an old fogey who only remembers ‘the good old days’, there was a time where the only two players that spoke to the referee were the captains. We are currently seeing 30 players complaining and appealing every decision ruled against them. This has stepped up to the next level recently. As pointed out by former England prop and current BT sport and ITV presenter David Flatman, it seems the automatic reaction now is to appeal. He made this remark during an Aviva Premiership match between Worcester Warriors and Wasps. Warriors front rowers were appealing an infringement against their line-out jumper in the air. Flatman’s point was that when they were lifting, the front-rowers weren’t even looking at the issue penalized, but their immediate knee-jerk reaction was to appeal against it. Despite the constant instruction from referees for players who are not the captain to stay silent, the matter persists.
Next, we look at the issue of diving in rugby. In the clip below, we see referee Nigel Owens warning Scotlands Stuart Hogg for diving in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Hogg is not alone in this attempt to gain a penalty wherever he can. All-time great Bryan Habana has been a culprit of this exact same issue. Below we can see the 124-cap veteran making the most of some contact with Owen Farrell following a chip and chase.
The point here is that this was almost unheard of 10 years ago when wages and the general finance of the game were far behind its current state.
Chopping and changing of coaches
The player’s on-field conduct is not the only new comparison to football, the manner in which clubs are managed has begun to change. The chopping and changing of team managers in football is mundane news these days. It is a fairly regular occurrence to see a club managed by multiple individuals in a season following the sacking of a person in charge following poor performance. We are now seeing the same treatment creep into rugby union. Last season, Leicester Tigers were under the command of three different coaches. The Midlands side started the season under the Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill, who was then sacked in January 2017 after a run of poor form over a number of seasons. Former All Black Aaron Mauger was then placed in charge until April 2017. Matt O’Connor then took over as head coach, with Mauger returning to New Zealand.
Furthermore, there is the example of Laurie Fisher’s mid-season resignation from Gloucester Rugby. The Australian left the club with immediate effect in March 2017, stating on twitter “Unbelievable capitulation. Clearly not good enough. My responsibility. Time to make room for somebody else”. Scarce to see a head coach taking matters into his own hands as opposed to the club choosing to end their employment.
A jersey per season
There was a time where clubs and international sides chose a kit and kept with it for multiple seasons. These days there is a new home, away and alternate kit at the start of every season. With the introduction of new kits, unsurprisingly come new prices. Even at my comparatively young age of twenty-something I can still remember a time where you could buy your side’s home jersey for around £40, whereas now you can see the England home strip for up to £95! Why? because fans will buy them, even in these times of financial uncertainty, simple economics. Yet, that still doesn’t make it sit right with many.
A rather isolated incident arose in the French league, the Top 14, last month. The manager of Castre, Christoph Urios, got into a rather public row with opposition head coach Fabien Galthie. While this would be enough to attract some attention, Urios took the altercation a step further with a petulant little slap to Galthie’s chin.
Is this just the start?
So just how worried should we be? Is this a gradual slide that can only go one way? Or are we getting too concerned with our virtues? We want to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment below.
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