Ireland response far from ‘positive and respectful’
It was a week for sore losers. They haven’t actually lost yet, but the Irish and French Unions threw tantrums over South Africa coming top of the selection process for determining the best country to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. As you would expect, the two Unions went about it in very different ways.
Bernard Laporte got very excited about France coming second, claiming that the evaluation report was ‘nonsense’ full of ‘blatant errors’, and damning the authors’ ‘incompetence’. World Rugby sprung to the defence of their process, and no doubt there will be a frank exchange of views between them and the FFR.
The Irish expressed their concern in a more measured, but in my view even more unpleasant way. Ahead of the final vote, which will take place in London later this month, you’d have thought they’d be focused on trying to sell the benefits of their bid – something they’ve clearly failed to do so far, as they came third of three.
Not so, they broke one of the cardinal rules of salesmanship, which is to knock the opposition. That hardly ever works, and usually simply hard have ens attitudes against the one doing the knocking. The word that sprung to mind when I read their letter to World Rugby, was snide.
As an example, instead of simply reiterating that they think they can fill their stadia, they had to point the finger at South Africa’s failure to fill its grounds for Super Rugby matches, although what relevance that has is beyond me. It would be equally irrelevant to point out that apart from the derbies between Munster and Leinster, the Irish Provinces fail to sell-out their PRO14 home games!
Under major event hosting experience, the IRFU couldn’t resist references to the 2022 Commonwealth Games being stripped from Durban, and then later went on to negatively refer to South Africa’s Standard and Poor’s credit rating. They neglected to mention the successful FIFA 2012 World Cup which South Africa hosted.
It’s a disappointing document, and you have to hope that those with a vote read it thoroughly, and ask themselves whether they want to cast it for such sore losers. The finale to the IRFU’s letter contains the remarkable words ‘the IRFU look forward to continuing to play our role in a positive and respectful manner up until voting day on November 15’. Positive and respectful towards the South African bid? Really?
Last weekend’s Baa-Baa’s v New Zealand game attracted around 60,000, which is a pretty impressive number for a game that was essentially put on purely for entertainment purposes. Of the 46 players involved, none were English, something that has annoyed a few people, although it really shouldn’t.
In their own words the Barbarians is ‘a rugby club which brings together players from different clubs to play a few matches each year to enjoy the camaraderie of the game and play attacking, adventurous rugby without the pressure of having to win’. That’s splendid, and it’s a wonderful tradition, but nowadays they will always to take second place to meaningful games where winning matters.
There are those who argue that the Premiership clubs should have released their players to join the Baa- Baas but I found it really surprising that London Irish’s Ben Franks, and Gloucester’s Ruan Ackermann were allowed to play – especially the latter who’d come to the Premiership straight after the Lions’ long Super Rugby campaign. .
It’s the job of the clubs to manage player welfare – if you owned a Premiership club, would you allow your star players to turn out in a meaningless fixture, running the risk of sustaining an injury? There’s a limit on how many games per season a player can reasonably be asked to play and I’d want my players playing for my club as much as possible, and not in jollies.
I was brought up to revere the Baa-Baas, but the game, and the rugby world, has changed out of all recognition since the days of ‘that’ try. The problem is that some people don’t seem to have moved on since then.
The Baa-Baas and their Corinthian spirit will continue for a long time to come, but their access to current internationals is likely to be limited from now on.
Great spectacle: Barbarians duo Ruan Ackermann and Ben Franks