Rugby makes it­self a laugh­ing stock – again

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Tennis - Dumb and Dum­ber,

Northamp­ton’s loose­head prop cri­sis, and Euro­pean Pro­fes­sional Club Rugby’s re­sponse to it, is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the teething prob­lems the game is still hav­ing, 25 years af­ter its move into pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

As a busi­ness, it is still re­ally quite young and these in­ci­dents only high­light how it could ben­e­fit by car­ry­ing some of the old-school ethos into the mod­ern day.

Reg­is­tra­tion rules are largely in place to stop clubs from buy­ing in su­per­stars from clubs that have been knocked out of com­pe­ti­tions. Clearly, that is not the case with Northamp­ton. They have not been say­ing: “Our scrum is a bit of a weak spot, some­one get me Joe Mar­ler’s num­ber. Does any­one have con­tact de­tails for Tendai Mtawarira?”

Chris Boyd has clearly not asked his four first-choice loose­heads to fake in­juries so he can go shop­ping. For a start, those play­ers would tell him to f--- off. That de­val­ues the team ethos and the way you reached the quar­ter-fi­nal.

The rea­son­ing be­hind the rule is noble. You want the squads that man­aged to pick up Alex Seville on loan from Glouces­ter and the reg­u­la­tions were changed. We have had the rig­ma­role that I men­tioned last week, with ev­ery­thing be­ing played out in the press. Guess what? Rugby ad­min­is­tra­tors look like a bunch of fools again.

I know Boyd has said that Dan

Cole went easy on young Manny Iyogun, but I ac­tu­ally thought he looked good for Saints against Le­ices­ter on Sun­day. The scrum was not de­stroyed and he car­ried well. He is a con­verted back-rower and will never for­get his unusual first steps into se­nior rugby.

There have been some strange in­tro­duc­tions over the years.

Scrum-half Andy Nicol joined the 2001 Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions tour af­ter a few days of en­ter­tain­ing, shall we say. Af­ter prop Mar­cos Ay­erza joined Tigers, he was meant to be hav­ing lunch with chief ex­ec­u­tive Si­mon Co­hen at Welford Road be­fore a match against Bath. Alex Moreno got in­jured, so Ay­erza came into the squad. Then Martin Cas­tro­gio­vanni was yel­low-carded early on. All of a sud­den, Ay­erza was mak­ing his de­but.

Stranger things than a Northamp­ton win at Sandy Park have hap­pened, but Saints were woe­ful last week – ab­so­lutely woe­ful. Some­times, when there is a big game on the hori­zon and you have noth­ing to play for, it just takes the edge off be­cause, even sub­con­sciously, you want to be play­ing in a Euro­pean quar­ter-fi­nal a week later.

All week, Rob Bax­ter will have been say­ing that Northamp­ton will come out like wounded an­i­mals be­cause they were so bad against Le­ices­ter. It was gen­uinely the worst Saints per­for­mance I have ever seen. And they nearly won, which tells an­other story that we should get into an­other time.

Iyogun should be able to play for 50 or 60 min­utes, and he now has Seville to back him up. That means we should avoid un­con­tested scrums, at least. But Ex­eter are so strong up front. No dis­re­spect to any other club in the tour­na­ment, but I would love to see Chiefs win the Cham­pi­ons Cup this year. It feels a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion for them.

Hav­ing said that, be­cause there has been so much chop­ping and chang­ing, it will have been dif­fi­cult to get any real con­ti­nu­ity among their units. Maybe Chiefs could be slightly rusty.

In the words of Lloyd Christ­mas from am I telling you there is a chance Northamp­ton could progress? Yes. Maybe slightly bet­ter than a one-in-a-mil­lion chance.

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