IRFU have lit­tle choice but to sever ties with tal­ented Ul­ster duo

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - BREN­DAN FAN­NING

EARLY one Fe­bru­ary night, when the case against the Belfast Four was in the foothills of its climb, we hap­pened across a group of adult sports­men who were dis­cussing the ini­tial ev­i­dence as re­ported in the me­dia. One of them stopped to ask if, given the na­ture of this job, we had any in­side track from re­porters who might be cov­er­ing the case. Eh, no, we hadn’t. Al­ready these men were spec­u­lat­ing on where the case would go, and there was much amuse­ment at the na­ture of the texts that were emerg­ing in ev­i­dence in La­gan­side Court.

It was a fairly short en­counter, and as we left we thought it might be ap­pro­pri­ate to ask the fol­low­ing ques­tion: when, for foot­ballers of any code on a night out, did sex be­come a group sport? They loved that one. We must ad­mit to not hav­ing heard the term “toxic mas­culin­ity” be­fore last week, but it summed up neatly the re­ac­tion to our ques­tion. You prob­a­bly have to be of a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion to be of­fended by this no­tion that a fe­male con­quest is just that, and a con­quest shared is worth more points on the Ban­ter/Craic score­board.

The after­math of the trial has been in­struc­tive. Paddy Jack­son’s brief, Joe McVeigh, came out look­ing to set­tle a few scores. As an ex­er­cise in good pub­lic re­la­tions it fell some way short. Stu­art Old­ing’s man, Paul Dougan, took the op­po­site tack. He read a state­ment from his client that was con­cil­ia­tory and apolo­getic.

Dougan fol­lowed that up by go­ing on RTÉ Ra­dio 1’s To­day with Sean

O’Rourke on Thurs­day. He showed re­mark­able for­bear­ance to hang on the line while, hav­ing made an ini­tial con­tri­bu­tion, the jour­ney took a scenic route around the houses be­fore even­tu­ally com­ing back to him. Je­sus, was he still on the line we won­dered? But he hung in there for his client, who in turn is des­per­ate to hang on to his ca­reer. In Ire­land. And with Ire­land.

The IRFU will no doubt en­sure that he, and Paddy Jack­son, are af­forded due process in that at­tempt. Then they will cut them loose. How could they ex­pect spon­sors like Kingspan in Ul­ster and Voda­fone with Ire­land to leave their wag­ons hitched to this train wreck?

Ac­cord­ing to the terms of the stan­dard con­tract, un­der the ter­mi­na­tion clause, the IRFU re­serves the right to sum­mar­ily ter­mi­nate this Agree­ment and dis­miss the Player from its em­ploy­ment if the player is guilty of gross mis­con­duct, or has com­mit­ted a se­ri­ous breach of the terms of this Agree­ment, or any of the IRFU’s poli­cies, codes and reg­u­la­tions no­ti­fied to the Player from time to time. That in­cludes be­ing guilty of any form of con­duct which brings the IRFU, the Game or the Player into dis­re­pute. THE IRFU must give any player four weeks’ writ­ten no­tice of its in­ten­tion to ter­mi­nate a con­tract. So if un­der the ban­ner of due process the union takes a week or so to re­view the case and in­ter­view the play­ers, and then is­sues its no­tice, both should be off the books by mid-May. There will be is­sues over sev­er­ance but they can work through them.

Why not keep two play­ers who could do a first-class job for prov­ince and coun­try — con­sider for ex­am­ple the lack of depth be­neath Johnny Sex­ton? Be­cause while Jack­son and Old­ing are not guilty of any crime — the pros­e­cu­tion failed to prove the charges beyond a rea­son­able doubt — it is im­pos­si­ble for the union to pro­mote its play­ers and its game if some of those at the top end have pre­sented them­selves in a poor light.

Al­co­hol was a fac­tor. It is at the core of our cul­ture, a nailed-on ele­ment of any cel­e­bra­tion. Typ­i­cally pro sports­men live very dis­ci­plined lives re­gard­ing what they eat and drink. There is a huge premium on turn­ing up for work on time and be­ing ready to de­liver. It reaches a peak on match day.

The gaps for let­ting their hair down are few and far be­tween. Last Satur­day and Sun­day nights for ex­am­ple would have been like an oa­sis for the Ire­land play­ers. Nat­u­rally enough then the ten­dency is not to stick a nose in the trough but to climb in, boots and all. The night with the great­est fris­son to it is the last one on tour. Crazy stuff.

On the fi­nal morn­ing of the Lions tour of Aus­tralia in 2001 we hap­pened across one of the tourists on Manly’s busy seafront. It was around 11. He was buck­led. Stag­ger­ing along the pave­ment in full Lions liv­ery he was happy but ut­terly in­co­her­ent, much to the amuse­ment of on­look­ers. You wouldn’t want to be mak­ing too many de­ci­sions in that state. More roll model than role model.

This case goes a bit deeper than lads be­ing jarred, how­ever. More like lads be­ing lad­dish in an en­vi­ron­ment where that is the cur­rency. Rugby likes to pro­mote it­self as hav­ing cor­nered the mar­ket on char­ac­ter build­ing. ‘The Team of Us’ as the cur­rent Voda­fone cam­paign has it. ‘Who we are is how we play’. Oh dear.

Rugby is a great game, but aside from its com­par­a­tively low level of cyn­i­cism on the field it is no more valu­able to the hu­man con­di­tion than any other great game.

And, like those other great games, it has a prob­lem. As have Paddy Jack­son and Stu­art Old­ing. Two tal­ented rugby play­ers with plenty of years left ahead of them, they will have to take their tal­ents else­where. France seems the most likely bet.

So long lads.

This case goes a bit deeper than lads be­ing jarred, how­ever

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