When last week I read in the media of a World Rugby summit held in the United States at which various ideas were considered to broaden the appeal of the sport around the world, including the old chestnut of expanding the Six Nations tournament and also setting up a 12-Nation around the world tournament in non-Rugby World Cup years, I had to smile.
Back in the good old, bad old, amateur days of rugby union, when basically it involved the Home Nations and France (if it behaved itself) and occasional clashes – via tours about once a decade – with each of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, the sport accepted and was happy with its minority status.
After all, in those days the route to an international cap almost invariably began and ended in glorious Muscular Christian tradition via a public school education, university and then a famous old-style club.
None of the goings-on in the spineless round-ball professional game with its lack of national pride – after WW1 was declared football continued its 1914-1915 season through to the 1915 FA Cup when, in contrast, rugby union abandoned all games and prided itself on the fact it encouraged its players to go off to die on the Western Front to set an example to others.
For a century the organisation that has now become World Rugby ran the game like an old boys’ club for the ‘Major’ nations.
It was really only when the game went professional in 1995 that the world of capitalism – let alone that of the internet, global corporations, television, sponsorship and ‘big bucks’ – first appeared on Rugby Union’s radar in a classic “Wake up and smell the coffee” moment that the sport’s administrators slowly began to switch towards a more outward approach to the future.
Self-interest sparks protectionism, or rather a willingness to embrace everything that the modern world can bring … but only if it preserves and preferably also improves the lot of the “turkeys”.
By any 21st Century logic, breaking rugby union out into the target remaining 80% of the world where it does not rate as a mass interest sport would be a good thing. For the sport – but not necessarily the old “Major” nations.
I posted recently upon the notion being aired in some quarters of an annual Northern Hemisphere/European international tournament to replace the Six Nations – or (on a lesser scale) have promotion and relegation from the Six Nations – as a means of “spreading the gospel”.
Recently I met and had lunch with a former senior RFU insider when the topic came up in conversation.
His opinion was blunt “The Scots would never agree to the concept of promotion and relegation from the Six Nations. If they ever got relegated, firstly they’d never get back in. And secondly, the game in Scotland would immediately wither away.”
He pointed out that Scottish rugby possesses just two professional teams, which – though admittedly they’ve both just made it into the knockout stage of the European Champions Cup for the first time together – have done so largely via hiring mercenary bunches of non-Scots to fill their squads.
Apart from that, its national player-pool consists of public school old boys and those who join amateur clubs, which are inevitably run in a typically amateur manner.
The sport of choice for most Scottish youngster was, is – and forever will be – football.
Then overnight I found this report by Gerard Meagher on the website of The Guardian – and why do some things not surprise me? – see here – SIX NATIONS RELEGATION?