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