Nigel’s lat­est one-liner leaves this viewer cold

The Rugby Paper - - Views - COLIN BOAG

There was an in­ter­est­ing spat be­tween for­mer Ir­ish in­ter­na­tional Luke Fitzger­ald and ref­eree Nigel Owens last week. Fitzger­ald took is­sue with a com­ment made by Owens to Mun­ster lock Billy Hol­land when ex­plain­ing why he’d called ad­van­tage over: “It’s poor play by you there on the pass – un­der no pres­sure there”.

For me Fitzger­ald was ab­so­lutely on the money, and he also quoted a com­ment Owens pre­vi­ously made when he pe­nalised Cian Healy at a ruck: “The hands out rule changed three years ago, where have you been?” It’s all a mat­ter of per­sonal taste; are those com­ments witty, or are they snide?

Owens de­fended him­self by say­ing his com­ment to Hol­land was nei­ther witty or a put-down: “I just ex­plained why ad­van­tage was over, noth­ing more.” But the real­ity is that he then added his opin­ion on the qual­ity of the pass, and that’s the is­sue.

The prob­lem is that Owens has a pub­lic pro­file that is very dif­fer­ent from any other top flight ref; he is a TV per­son­al­ity host­ing Welsh lan­guage shows on S4C, he is a client of a pub­lic speak­ing agency, and he has writ­ten an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy which he reg­u­lary plugs on his Twit­ter ac­count. He was a re­cent guest on Desert

Is­land Discs, where he spoke frankly and mov­ingly on is­sues sur­round­ing the strug­gles he had com­ing to terms with his sex­u­al­ity.

There is a con­tra­dic­tion be­tween his ac­tiv­i­ties out­side of rugby, and his wish to keep a low pro­file on the pitch.

His com­ment on Twit­ter: “The game is about the play­ers not the ref­eree,” is some­times not borne out by his ac­tions on the field, where de­lib­er­ately or not (al­most cer­tainly the lat­ter), he does be­come the fo­cus of at­ten­tion – just look at the num­ber of YouTube videos of his quips.

Some of Owens’ on-field com­ments can be funny, but I think that some­times his tongue runs away with him. Other world-class refs com­mu­ni­cate equally well with the play­ers – Wayne Barnes is an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple – but they man­age to avoid cross­ing the line.

I’d rather see Nigel stick­ing to reff­ing, and keep­ing some of the one­lin­ers for his TV ap­pear­ances.

Last week we got the clear ev­i­dence that SANZAAR chief ex­ec­u­tive Andy Mari­nos had been talk­ing through his back­side when, in Fe­bru­ary, he de­fended Su­per Rugby and its in­sane for­mat. All his com­ments about tries per match be­ing on the in­crease, and the size of the world­wide TV au­di­ence were, as I said at the time, merely an at­tempt to paint lip­stick on a pig.

The an­nounce­ment came on Sun­day that the cur­rent 18-team for­mat will re­vert to 15 for next sea­son, with one Aus­tralian and two South African sides be­ing culled. The rea­sons given were pres­sure from broad­cast­ers, spec­ta­tors, and of course, stake­hold­ers – no an­nounce­ment from a rugby ad­min­is­tra­tor would be com­plete with­out the mys­te­ri­ous ‘stake­hold­ers’ get­ting a men­tion!

What wasn’t said, of course, was mea culpa, be­cause in those sit­u­a­tions an ad­mis­sion of guilt just doesn’t hap­pen. Mari­nos was still blus­ter­ing on in an epic at­tack of man­age­ment-speak, say­ing that this was a short-term re­ac­tion, and im­ply­ing that there is still a strate­gic plan to build a brand that can sup­port more than 15 teams. What wasn’t im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent was which man­age­ment heads would roll in the wake of this fi­asco?

As al­ways there’s a hu­man cost: three teams’ squads – around 120 play­ers – will be look­ing for work, as will all of the ad­min­is­tra­tive staff and tens of thou­sands of fans will lose their team. All that mer­chan­dise mar­keted over the past cou­ple of years will ef­fec­tively have been sold un­der false pre­tences, but I’ll bet you that Mari­nos and his ilk will still be draw­ing their not­in­con­sid­er­able salaries.

Here in the North let’s thank our lucky stars we have clubs with a long history, and a fol­low­ing built up over many years. Some of them might be turn­ing big losses and re­ly­ing on sugar dad­dies, but at least they aren’t fran­chises that are dis­posed of on a whim by ad­min­is­tra­tors.

No laugh­ing mat­ter: Nigel Owens yel­low cards Dan Fish of Cardiff Blues

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