People In Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Rugby Balls – Part II

A recent, rather thoughtful, article in the New Zealand Press highlighted that the British Lions had to win the first test otherwise they would end up losing the series 3-0. Whilst I disagree with this statement, Warren Gaitland demonstrated in Australia he is up to the task of rotating his team to fulfil a gruelling schedule, I do agree that the two blocks of friendly internationals, in June and November, are timed such that the home team will always have the advantage.

The article then went onto call for a global season yet I fear this is always going to be impossible. Whose season would you adopt, north or south? Or if you met half way what happens to the traditional season highlights? Would you want to watch the Six Nations in October or the New Zealand Championship in January? The only solutions I feel would be acceptable to both sides would be minor yet even minor tweaks might level the playing field no matter how unpalatable they are for Rugby’s authorities.

Firstly, the northern hemisphere would need to finish their season earlier and perhaps not make the Heineken Cup the culmination of the season. The teams which make up the final usually have a greater proportion of players going on the summer tours and most of these players are usually unavailable or unfit for the first international of the tour. And secondly push the dates of the summer tour back a week, this would give a two week break between high intensity matches which would be on par with what the All Blacks faced between a dead rubber in South Africa and money spinning match against Ireland in Chicago.

Finally, the author of that article finished implying a global season would never happen because England are too focused on revenue to care about the rest of the global game. Their reasoning being Fiji were only paid $172,000 dollars for their game at Twickenham! I have previously stated in this blog the gap between Tier 1 nations and the rest need to be addressed but the implication that this is England’s fault or responsibility is just another example of the All Black Presses sour grapes and hypocrisy.

If New Zealand Rugby really do care about the Pacific Island rugby playing nations on their doorstep, then they need to do something about it. Instead of trying to break the American market, and with it scoop up all of those Trump dollars, New Zealand could have kicked off their Autumn tour with a match against Fiji, Tonga or Western Samoa but that would be bad for revenue, sound familiar to you? Are we talking about the All Blacks or England?

Instead Fiji played England whilst Tonga played Italy, Samoa played France, Japan played Wales and Georgia played Scotland, yet can you recall when one of the SANZAR teams played any of these nations outside a world cup?

Maybe that article was correct and we should consider a global season but instead of the northern hemisphere teams touring one country they could share the love, and the revenue, around. England could play one match against the Wallabies then one against the All Blacks before finishing their tour by playing one of the Pacific Island nations, which would provide much needed revenue for these nations!

Of course this is not going to happen because the rugby super powers, including the All Blacks, don’t want to lose revenue so I would suggest, once more, to the New Zealand rugby press that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw rugby balls.

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People In Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Rugby Balls

At Twickenham, at the weekend, England will play host to Fiji, a rugby nation who over the last twelve months have delighted us all as they won the inaugural Olympics sevens goal medal. If the figures are to be believed, then the Fiji players will be paid over fifty times less than their English counterparts and the fact that the spectators in the stands will have paid more for a ticket than the Fiji players will earn is a travesty.

Whilst I agree with Ian Ritchie, the RFU Chief Executive, that it is not the RFU’s responsibility to fund world rugby I would question why a greater proportion of the match proceeds can’t be handed over to the Fijian team. England have three additional autumn internationals against larger rugby unions and I would expect ticket sales for these matches, along with broadcast rights, would more than compensate for any act of generosity towards their Fijian counterparts.

However, if Fiji, and the rest of the rugby playing Pacific Islands, are to have a chance of growing the game the main responsibility has to come from their closest neighbours, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Over the years the latter two of these nations have pilfered the Pacific Islands for talented players and now it is time to give something back.

From an International point of view in the last four years only Scotland out of the Six Nations teams have not played a match against Fiji whilst only Australia, of the Rugby Championship teams, have met Fiji in the same time period, and that was in a World Cup match. Surely it wouldn’t have hurt the All Blacks, Australia or South Africa to have played a match against one of the Pacific Islands at the end of the Rugby Championship or maybe as a curtain raiser to their Northern Tours?

Domestically also SANZAR could do a lot more for the development of the game in the Pacific Islands, although it must be noted the Chiefs and Crusaders did play a Super Rugby match in Suva last year. With both Argentina and Japan now having Super Rugby teams could a Pacific Island team be a viable option, especially if the ever expanding competition was split into two zones to reduce travel expenses?

Finally, if the game is going to continue to grow World Rugby needs to stand up and recognise the achievements of smaller nations and, as mentioned in previous blogs, the fact Fiji didn’t win a single award for their achievements this year would suggest a review of how these awards are decided.

There is always an underlying rhetoric in the antipodean media of how English rugby has so much money that they need to be putting something back into the game and I agree, in part, with this but before Australia and New Zealand begin to throw stones they need to take a look at their own glass houses because at least England, and the rest of the six nations are willing to give them a game.

The Lemon Giraffe Rugby Awards

All is right in the world of New Zealand rugby once more, the aberration of a defeat to an Irish team who had never previously beaten the all-conquering All Blacks is in the past as another unbeaten run beckons and at the World Rugby Awards last week New Zealand picked up team, coach and player of the year.

With Italy vanquished the All Blacks attention turns to revenge next Saturday as they prepare to avenge the ignominy of a defeat in America, where they travelled to demonstrate to one of the world’s largest sporting economies that they are THE team in world rugby. It is hard to argue with the confident vibes coming out of the All Black camp after a second string New Zealand thoroughly demolished an abject Italian team but it must be noted that this current incarnation of Roman rugby is at the start of yet another new dawn and as such anything other than a walloping would have been a bad result for the men in black. The real test of whether all is good with New Zealand rugby will take place in Dublin at the weekend against a coach who is more than capable of outthinking Steve Hansen, which leads me to the World Rugby Awards.

Breakthrough Player of the Year

I admit as an England supporter I am biased but the one award I have no issues with was Maro Itoje who won breakthrough player of the year. Itoje was one of the standout players in the summer tests against Australia and the player I am most excited in seeing, fitness permitting, when the British Lions tour New Zealand next year. An honourable mention has to go Ardie Savea who, along with Itoje, could in the future be challenging year after year for the main award.

Player of the Year

Listening to New Zealand rugby commentators you would be justified in believing Beauden Barrett was Jesus’ more successful brother. In their eyes the Hurricanes fly half can do wrong and whilst Barrett was a key member in his team’s maiden Super Rugby championship he did mistakes and although personally I cannot stand the player I believe Dan Coles has been a bigger influence for both club and country than his teammate. In addition, Owen Farrell has had a stellar international season and for me it would be a straight fight between the All Black hooker and the English goal kicker.

Team of the Year

This is where I begin to question the World Rugby awards. True, New Zealand had an impressive year, they won, and were unbeaten, in their international championship but so were England. They beat Australia three times, but so did England, and so far they have only lost once this year but so did . . . In fact England are still unbeaten this year yet I feel the international rugby team of the year should have gone to the Fiji sevens team who not only won the World Sevens Series but also picked up their country’s first ever Olympic gold medal, if the rugby authorities are really interested in growing the world game they need to ensure they look outside of New Zealand’s shores. This was the fifth time in a row that the All Blacks have won this award and whilst I agree for the four previous years they have easily been deserved winners, this year two more deserving teams have been overlooked.

Coach of the Year

Finally, on a similar theme to the Team of the Year, I do not believe Steve Hansen was one of the top two coaches in World Rugby this year. His All Black team came into 2016 in a position of strength, world champions and easily the best team in the world and will leave it as world champions and probably the best team in the world, in short in relative terms they have gone backwards. In contrast Eddie Jones’ record with England has been just as impressive yet his England team have gone from being a laughing stock to possibly the only genuine challengers to the All Blacks.

But yet again I feel World Rugby should have looked outside the traditional rugby super powers and rewarded Ben Ryan for the achievements and the pride he has instilled in Fijian rugby.

The Lemon Giraffe Rugby Team of the Year – Fiji Sevens

The Lemon Giraffe Rugby Coach of the Year – Ben Ryan

The Lemon Giraffe Rugby Player of the Year – Dan Coles

The Lemon Giraffe Rugby Breakthrough  of the Year – Maro Itoje