>> Probyn: It’s look­ing bleak for War­riors al­ready

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“Worces­ter have been on the wrong end of some pretty one-sided games, ship­ping 100 points while scor­ing 28”

There is no sub­sti­tute for play­ing the game, try as you might and no mat­ter what you do, noth­ing matches ac­tu­ally play­ing the game. At the start of ev­ery sea­son de­spite the ef­forts of all the teams to pre­pare with pre-sea­son train­ing and ‘friendlies,’ there is al­ways the un­ex­pected – and boy did we get some this sea­son!

The thrash­ing of Northamp­ton by Sar­ries, Quins hu­mil­i­a­tion by Lon­don Ir­ish, cham­pi­ons Ex­eter los­ing their crown in the first game against Glouces­ter. All this in the first games of the sea­son when the play­ers should have been at their best.

And we have seen how, af­ter a cou­ple of games, teams have im­proved dra­mat­i­cally, Northamp­ton beat­ing lo­cal ri­vals Le­ices­ter and fol­low­ing that with Fri­day’s win against Bath while other first week losers have stepped up their games and been re­warded with wins.

Quins beat­ing Glouces­ter and Ex­eter’s wins against Lon­don Ir­ish and Worces­ter have eased the pain of that first loss.

While it makes for an ex­cit­ing start to the sea­son, it is a night­mare for those try­ing to pre­pare a team for the rig­ors of a long pro­fes­sional sea­son where it is im­per­a­tive that you start well, es­pe­cially for those who can ex­pect to be among the strag­glers at the bot­tom of the ta­ble come the end of the sea­son.

The win that Ir­ish achieved against Quins has given them a bit of breath­ing space de­spite los­ing their next two games while, much as I hate to say it, Worces­ter are al­ready look­ing prime can­di­dates for the drop.

How they will turn their sea­son round when they have been on the wrong end of some pretty one-sided games, ship­ping 100 points while only scor­ing 28, is the big ques­tion.

The job of mo­ti­vat­ing the play­ers and pos­si­bly try­ing to re­cruit some new tal­ent be­comes harder as the club strug­gle to com­pete, and yet we are only in the third week of com­pe­ti­tion.

One club that seem to have put those prob­lems be­hind them is New­cas­tle, where Dean Richards has once again shown what a good coach he is.

Third in the ta­ble and off play­ing Sar­ries in the States in prob­a­bly the prestige game of the Premier­ship sea­son, who would have thought a few years ago, New­cas­tle, the con­stant rel­e­ga­tion favourites would be where they are to­day?

Speak­ing of Sara­cens, Billy Vunipola’s com­ment that play­ers could go on strike un­less the sea­son is short­ened, throws up some in­ter­est­ing points.

Billy is aware that the ‘suits’ as he calls them, know that player wel­fare is an is­sue and talk a lot about how to man­age it, but do very lit­tle.

Surely, this should be some­thing for the RPA to be cham­pi­oning and con­fronting but as they are part funded by the Premier­ship and the RFU, there may be a slight con­flict of in­ter­ests.

Billy’s view that in­creases in the salary cap should be used to re­cruit more play­ers is prob­a­bly right but I am not sure that too many play­ers would agree to cuts in wages to fund big­ger squads for their clubs.

Billy plays for a club that have one of the big­gest and best squads in the Premier­ship and has a the­o­ret­i­cal max­i­mum limit of 32 games a sea­son. In fact, in the 2015/16 sea­son most of the play­ers in the se­nior Eng­land squad played the equiv­a­lent of just 23 matches, so he should be in a bet­ter po­si­tion than many of his Premier­ship col­leagues.

I must ad­mit I am a lit­tle sur­prised by his com­ments as I feel that Sara­cens are one of the bet­ter clubs when it comes to man­ag­ing their play­ers’ wel­fare and long-term fu­ture.

Al­though Vunipola would prob­a­bly be se­lected for most of the sea­son’s ‘big games’, the size of Sar­ries squad al­lows for a de­gree of player ro­ta­tion help­ing play­ers like him man­age their sea­son.

He is right when he says that, “none of the ‘suits’ have ever played nine months in to­day’s rugby” but they are the ones that fi­nance the game and carry the losses cre­ated by the salaries of to­day’s play­ers.

Un­for­tu­nately, like it or not, play­ers are paid too much in re­la­tion to what the sport gen­er­ates even with the grow­ing sup­port – but what­ever he says about it not be­ing about money, the higher the wage cap, the higher the wages de­manded by play­ers and their agents.

For all play­ers at all lev­els it is a mat­ter of choice, they choose how many games they play and at what stan­dard. Pro­fes­sional play­ers may not play as many games as their am­a­teur pre­de­ces­sors but there are cer­tain ar­eas of the mod­ern game which have a more dam­ag­ing im­pact on the body, hence the game limit placed on elite play­ers.

How player fa­tigue is man­aged is as much a choice for the player as it is for his club but it in­volves some hard de­ci­sions.

Vunipola could refuse his Eng­land call up but that could cost him around a quar­ter of a mil­lion pounds a year, or he could take a sab­bat­i­cal from the game like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.

Un­for­tu­nately for him, they were em­ployed by their Union who agreed to their break, but he could be like Alex Cor­bisiero who found his sab­bat­i­cal cost him his ca­reer.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Eas­ing the pain: Jonny Hill scores in Ex­eter’s vic­tory over Worces­ter on Fri­day night

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