The fu­ture is un­der threat – a strike may be the an­swer

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union -

I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I know this much: it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore the next big bat­tle be­tween the in­de­pen­dently run clubs on the one hand and the gov­ern­ing bod­ies on the other. With­out po­lit­i­cal vi­sion and di­plo­matic sure-foot­ed­ness on the part of the var­i­ous stake­hold­ers: ad­min­is­tra­tors, own­ers, coaches, play­ers; the non-align­ment of in­ter­ests and in­her­ent con­flicts at the heart of the two big­gest rugby na­tions, Eng­land and France, could eas­ily bring the en­tire sport to its knees. It is plain to see that the most pow­er­ful Euro­pean clubs are at­tempt­ing to min­imise their over­laps with the in­ter­na­tional pro­gramme, hence the mus­cle­flex­ing over the most re­cent at­tempts to bring the northern and south­ern hemi­spheres to­gether in a “global” sea­son.

Can we blame the Bruce Craigs and Nigel Wrays of this world if they’re run­ning out of steam with the idea that Bath and Sara­cens should meet on se­ri­ous Pre­mier­ship busi­ness on a Test week­end, with­out their ma­jor box of­fice at­trac­tions? Of course not.

These peo­ple have fun­nelled vast amounts of money into rugby union: it must have cost Nigel well over £25mil­lion if it’s cost him a penny and he still spends an un­healthy chunk of the sea­son watch­ing his team play im­por­tant fix­tures while stripped bare of their top-of-the-bill at­trac­tions.

Yet it is equally true to say that the cal­en­dar year con­sists of 52 weeks, not 72 weeks.

The most you can squeeze into a

pint pot is a pint. Un­til that changes, which it won’t, there will al­ways be more rugby to be played than there is time to play it in.

Un­less, of course, some­one makes a sac­ri­fice by giv­ing ground, which is not some­thing we have seen too of­ten in the last 20 years.

To a large ex­tent, pro­fes­sional rugby union is a vic­tim of its own progress.

The game I played in the clos­ing decade of the am­a­teur era was com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the one we watch and marvel at to­day.

Yet de­spite that, we con­tinue to de­mand more of the play­ers: more rugby in more months of the year, played at ever-higher ve­loc­ity, at ever-greater risk to life and limb. The rea­son?

No one wants to cut back on the num­ber of matches be­cause matches mean money.

I am not one of life’s nat­u­ral rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies – even though I loved my time on the bar­ri­cades at New­cas­tle – but there is a part of me that won­ders if the sit­u­a­tion can pos­si­bly be re­solved with­out some form of in­dus­trial ac­tion from the work­ers who pro­vide the en­ter­tain­ment.

In­deed, I do not be­lieve we are watch­ing a fight for to­tal power any longer: in English and French terms, that bat­tle was lost by both sides a good while ago.

Where rugby finds it­self now is in the early stages of a con­flict over the na­ture of the com­pro­mise – a scrap for vi­a­bil­ity.

With­out com­pro­mise, the rugby union model world­wide will be un­der threat.

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