Rugby makes itself a laughing stock – again
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.