Stars past their sell-by dates weren’t go­ing to save Bris­tol

The Rugby Paper - - Results - JEFF PROBYN

With just three games left to play, the des­per­a­tion of the clubs at the bot­tom of the Premier­ship can hardly be imag­ined.

The odds are that Bris­tol will face the big drop although there is a math­e­mat­i­cal chance that Worcester could, if they fail to win any of the re­main­ing games and Bris­tol wins all of theirs.

Both face dif­fi­cult run-ins: Worcester v Bath at home, New­cas­tle away and Le­ices­ter at home while Bris­tol have Wasps at home, Saracens away and fi­nally New­cas­tle at home. It seems that Bris­tol will be left with the faint hope that Lon­don Ir­ish will fail to win the Cham­pi­onship and one of the many clubs that fail Premier­ship en­try re­quire­ments, win the league but can­not take their place at the top ta­ble.

Sad as it is to see Bris­tol (one of my old teams) join the yo-yo clubs (up and down in a sea­son), it is prob­a­bly their own fault as they, like those be­fore them have failed to pre­pare for life in the Premier­ship.

I am puz­zled why so many clubs fall short in the sim­ple task of get­ting ready for the level of com­pe­ti­tion they will face.

Even the old ex­cuse of the play-offs not giv­ing enough time to pre­pare a squad fit to face Premier­ship clubs, is a bit of a red her­ring sim­ply be­cause if you have am­bi­tions of reach­ing the top you take a long-term view. One that will see in­vest­ment in play­ers not only good enough to get you to the Premier­ship but good enough to con­sol­i­date there while the club set­tles.

Yes, it will cost a lot of money, most of which will have to come from a sugar daddy with deep pock­ets but that is the same for the clubs that are al­ready in the Premier­ship if they want to com­pete for the top.

A scan of the Premier­ship ta­ble is like look­ing at a money list of in­vest­ments over the years with the top six or seven clubs spend­ing the most.

Nigel Wray has con­sis­tently bankrolled Saracens, trans­form­ing them from ‘brides­maids’ to the ‘belles of the ball’ and one of the best clubs to watch even with a £12m deficit.

Wasps, al­most bank­rupt a cou­ple of years ago, are fly­ing high on the rev­enues gen­er­ated by the Ri­coh com­plex.

Those teams plus Bath, Le­ices­ter, Ex­eter, Har­lequins and Northampton (ad­mit­tedly with RFU help) have, over the years in­vested a for­tune in play­ers and coaches and ground im­prove­ments. What makes a Cham­pi­onship club think gain­ing pro­mo­tion would make them good enough to com­pete?

Any club with am­bi­tion would have to in­vest in play­ers at the level of the clubs they as­pire to com­pete with. A fail­ure to make that in­vest­ment means a last-minute rush for play­ers that causes dis­rup­tion in the squad, fur­ther re­duc­ing the chances of suc­cess.

Bris­tol’s ‘star buys’ were well past their sell-by date and although maybe good for ‘one last hur­rah’, were not up to the hard men­tal and phys­i­cal slog of a strug­gling Premier­ship cam­paign.

The last year of Cham­pi­onship play­offs of­fers a slim hope for Bris­tol given that Lon­don Ir­ish have lost only one game this sea­son with some truly com­pet­i­tive clubs ri­valling for the ti­tle.

For Bris­tol the lessons learned should en­able them to re­gain Premier­ship sta­tus even if rel­e­gated, par­tic­u­larly with the first-past-the-post pro­mo­tion sys­tem. The big­gest is to in­vest in qual­ity play­ers and have the am­bi­tion to go one bet­ter than Lon­don Ir­ish.

The news that Su­per Rugby is in tur­moil with the loss of a num­ber of teams should be no sur­prise as the cost of main­tain­ing a league that stretches half­way around the world was al­ways go­ing to be oner­ous.

Add to that a con­fus­ing sched­ule of games and you can see why view­ing sta­tis­tics have shown a fall in num­bers and fans have been vot­ing with their feet as at­ten­dances drop.

Even back when play­ers were happy just to be on the plane, rather than in busi­ness class and ho­tels were more in line with Trav­elodge than Hil­ton, the cost of trans­port­ing a team from Aus­tralia to South Africa, Ar­gentina or Ja­pan was pro­hib­i­tive. Add in play­ers wages and you can see why some fi­nan­cial real­ism is needed if SANZAAR are not to go bust.

The threat of le­gal ac­tion by some of the fran­chises won’t help as it’s likely to cost the Unions money they can’t af­ford and lead to more player re­dun­dan­cies.

A worry must be that while the bet­ter play­ers will pick-up con­tracts with other fran­chises, the jour­ney­men play­ers who are the core of ev­ery team will be left to find em­ploy­ment where they can and that might be here in Europe.

An in­flux of play­ers des­per­ate for con­tracts could see our Cham­pi­onship clubs reap­ing the ben­e­fit of lower wage bills but that could be bad for the na­tional team and the Premier­ship.

It’s good to hear that my good old mate Brian Moore is on the mend. Although a pain, I’m glad he’ll be around for a bit longer, if only to stop Ed­die But­ler wit­ter­ing on!

Get well soon, Brian.

“You can see why some fi­nan­cial real­ism is needed if SANZAAR are not to go bust”

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Les­son learned: Bris­tol have signed some top tal­ent for next year in­clud­ing New Zealand flanker Steven Lu­atua

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