Who de­cides what the ‘spirit of the game’ is?

Gloucestershire Echo - - RICHARSON REPORT -

HART­PURY did well to main­tain their Cham­pi­onship sta­tus with a 43-22 win against Lon­don Scot­tish two week­ends ago and, in the pro­cess, man­aged to pro­duce fire and brim­stone from some com­men­ta­tors on the game.

They were accused of test­ing the spirit of the game by call­ing up a raft of dual-qual­i­fi­ca­tion players to strengthen their team and Lewis Lud­low and Ben Vel­la­cott as a duo would have swayed the game might­ily.

But what ex­actly is the spirit of the game? And who de­fines it? It may be as sim­ple as the op­po­nents do­ing some­thing that you do not like then win­ning the match be­cause of it.

But there is no def­i­ni­tion of the spirit of the game so that can mean just what you want it to mean.

Hart­pury went fur­ther against Rich­mond in Fe­bru­ary when they man­aged to ac­cu­mu­late 11 players from Glouces­ter and Bris­tol to give them an arm to lean on. It is even sug­gested that two of that in­flux had never played be­fore or after for the univer­sity side.

Yet Hart­pury did noth­ing il­le­gal; if they had done so they would be play­ing in a lower league next sea­son.

The main prob­lem would seem to be with the rules laid down by the RFU, which al­low any club to regis­ter 10 players who are also reg­is­tered with a Premier­ship club – and three loan players on top.

You do not need to be a maths whizz-kid to spot the po­ten­tial mine­field if one club has a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the big boys and oth­ers don’t.

If you have the sig­na­tures and the big boys re­lease them, your team will be en­hanced on cer­tain weeks. It may not be too clever for team spirit when the coaches tell their own players that they are not good enough to main­tain their lofty po­si­tion, but that can­non fod­der hap­pened to be good enough in nearly all the other week­ends. This is all about The Law Of Un­in­tended Con­se­quences. The RFU was keen to al­low a sys­tem where Premier­ship teams farmed out their up and com­ing tal

ent to get match ex­pe­ri­ence; so far so good.

What they might not have re­alised at the time was that some team some­where would use the leg­is­la­tion to save them from the chop by flood­ing their side with players who had very lit­tle to do with the reg­u­lar sea­son.

But there was noth­ing il­le­gal in the way the team was con­structed.

It will have given the RFU a real headache as they prob­a­bly thought they were act­ing with good in­ten­tions and for the gen­eral good of the game.

The dual-qual­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem could have ben­e­fited every­body, but you can be sure that there will prob­a­bly be a Hart­pury Rule pretty soon and such a du­bi­ous stunt will have mil­lions of words of new leg­is­la­tion to stop it from hap­pen­ing again.

But we are no closer to un­der­stand­ing what is meant ex­actly by the spirit of the game.

Players gen­er­ally know with­out rule books as mu­tual self-preser­va­tion is prob­a­bly printed onto the back of the brain, but it is a hard one to de­fine.

For in­stance, were Worces­ter (and every­body does it) within that spirit when they hoofed the ball off the pitch when the 80 min­utes against Glouces­ter were up?

Or should they have been jolly good chaps who kept the ball in play to try to score again? I think we know the an­swer to that one.

Worces­ter de­served their vic­tory over the Cherry and Whites.

They had more ur­gency in the sec­ond half and we man­aged to lose so many turnovers that would be quite enough for a sea­son, let alone one match.

Sadly, both teams got some­thing out of a 27-20 re­sult, which might ac­count for the placid na­ture of the game.

Glouces­ter are in the play­offs and Worces­ter are all but safe in the Premier­ship, but there will have to be a mas­sive in­jec­tion of oomph for New­cas­tle’s visit this week­end as they have noth­ing to lose.

To­tal chaos will suit them down to the ground and they will risk body and limbs to hang on to Premier­ship rugby.

It is highly un­likely that they will be any­where other than the Cham­pi­onship next sea­son so they may just fancy blood­y­ing a big boy’s nose be­fore tak­ing the drop.

Lewis Lud­low played for Hart­pury against Lon­don Scot­tish

»For­mer Glouces­ter and Eng­land A coach Keith Richard­son

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