If I had written the HTML programming language it would have included a “rant” tagline.
Robyn won’t like this post. For all her great qualities she is, somewhat unfortunately, a fan of Rugby Union. Many fans of Rugby Union will tell you that it is the game they play in heaven – and if that’s the case I’d seriously think about trading in Christianity for Buddhism (ok, well I wouldn’t really do that it was more a piece of poetic license). They’ll argue that “at its best” it’s a flowing game full of skilled attacking forays and deft passing, and that it’s driven by tactics and nuance… Rugby, in my experience, is played “at its best” about once every four years, in the early rounds of the world cup when professional teams put the minnows to the sword. Rugby is typically a slow game marred by stoppages, incessant scrums, tiresome rucking and mauling, and ridiculous nonsensical penalties. My main gripe with Rugby stems not from the superiority complex it suffers from, my problem is their inability to develop talent capable of playing at the highest level. Rugby fans will cite the crowds at Super 14 games and test matches as evidence that it’s a popular game – television ratings tell another story. Rugby is unwatchable for the layperson and numbers don’t lie – Rugby League continues to be the most successful televised sport in New South Wales and Queensland. Club rugby can not hope to compete with club League – so they try to compare apples and oranges by taking a representative competition (Super 14) and comparing it with a national club competition – of course a NSW team should pack out a stadium… but they should also be able to win the odd game or two. Rugby Union likes to sign league players as PR stunts. These players will inevitably be picked for state teams at the expense of properly trained junior rugby union stars – and will possibly be contractually guaranteed the opportunity to play for Australia. The list of League to Union converts is a long one, the list of success stories is markedly shorter. From a list including talented athletes Mat Rogers, Lote Tuquiri, Wendell Sailor, Brad Thorn, Andrew Walker, Clinton Shifcofske – only Tuqiri is still playing international rugby – and this isn’t due to a lack of quality on the field. Rogers, Thorn and Walker got sick of union and went back to league – Walker and Sailor were both busted for cocaine use. Shifcofske should never ever play for Australia (he was once a drug cheat too – which suggests Union isn’t picky when it comes to their desperation to get one up on their league counterparts). Tuquiri recently re-signed with the Waratahs in a massive deal, and they followed that signing with a million dollar deal to lure Timana Tahu across the chasm. League players (particularly backs) get notoriously bored in the 15 man code so they have to pay them heaps more to keep them. Paying league players this much to cross over is a foolish ploy to win a battle that rugby can not afford to be engaged in, and one that they’ll never win. Their game is too inaccessible to people not brought up on a staple diet of union. Those in the know (ie economist Michael Pascoe) suggest the ARU is in danger of sending itself broke, particularly with gate receipts plummeting as Australian teams fail and falter on the field. Eric Grothe Jr, son of the “Guru” has had an interestingly patchy league career including years in the “wilderness” spent “discovering” himself and playing guitar. He’s big and mobile and he’s a gifted athlete – but the ARU has decided enough is enough and they’re going to invest their money in development – hopefuly that comes too late and union dies the slow and painful death it deserves.