Rugby Union: Salvaging the legacy of professional rugby's revolution

I HAVE always had a liking for the story of the Scottish preacher describing the torments of the damned: "O Lord," they cry, "we did'na ken." And the good Lord looks down on them and says in his infinite mercy: "Well, ye ken noo."

Likewise, I ken noo about professional rugby union. It is nasty, brutish and the cause of more division - between clubs and unions, clubs and other clubs, countries and other countries - than I should ever have thought possible.

What makes it worse is that, from the moment I started this column 12 years ago, I was in favour of professional rugby. This caused me not exactly to fall out with but certainly to have heated arguments with several friends, including the late Clem Thomas.

But what I did not want or expect was a state of affairs where players earned a full-time living from rugby. One or two in each club, the equivalent, of say, Jonathan Davies when he was playing for Widnes and later Warrington, might be in a position to claim a proper wage. When he was with Widnes even such an accomplished performer as Alan Tait had to supplement his earnings by working as a groundsman.

Rugby union professionals would, I thought, be in the same position. The majority of them would carry on at their normal jobs, as teachers, policemen, bricklayers or what-have-you.

In addition they would be both recompensed for the time they gave to the game and also rewarded for the pleasure they provided for others.

On no account, I thought, should rugby go the same way as cricket, where public support for the game does not justify a professional structure, and the counties have to rely on redistributed Test match takings (notably money from television) and on a proliferation of one-day competitions. Even so, cricket pays low wages, except to a few star performers, and it does not normally pay anyone through the course of a full year.

As things have turned out, rugby has not followed cricket but, rather, football. It has done so in two respects. First, players expect to be - and indeed are - paid large sums for what is, despite the rigours of modern training, very little work in terms of hours put in. And second, the leading clubs have become the possessions of rich men.

Professionalisation, as such, does not logically entail such a development. It may have become necessary owing to the ridiculously high wages that are now being paid. But county cricket has not gone the same way as football - as rugby union now seems to be heading.

The counties may go in for sponsorship, corporate hospitality and other tawdry accessories. But they do not have the equivalent of Sir John Hall at Newcastle, Nigel Wray at Saracens, Frank Warren at Bedford, Chris Wright at Wasps or Ashley Levett at Richmond, to name but a few. The counties, as far as I know, are still voluntary associations distinct from limited companies, public or private.

There is one bright spot: the arrival of players from rugby league. This again is nothing to do logically with professionalisation as it has developed in England. Interchangeability between the codes, which I had long urged, came about before the move to full professionalism. Nevertheless, league players would not be coming union's way if the money was not good.

It has been said that they have not travelled well. Robbie Paul at Harlequins, and Henry Paul and Jason Robinson at Bath, have been cited as examples of unsatisfactory conversion.

For various reasons, Robinson was not given an extended run in the Bath side. But on the occasions when I did manage to catch a glimpse of him - for he was elusive both in his play on the field and in his appearances on the team sheet - he impressed me as the equal of any wing in the Premiership.

And what about Scott Gibbs, one of the heroes of the Lions' success in South Africa in summer, 1997? Or Allan Bateman, who was also on that tour and was not a first choice for the Test side, but who remains perhaps the best all-round centre in Europe?

His only rival in the British Isles, Jeremy Guscott apart, is the league player, Gary Connolly, who had a brief pre-Christmas spell with Harlequins a few seasons ago and was man of the match in virtually every game he played. Clive Woodward, the England coach, has been making enquiries with a view to his inclusion in the World Cup squad.

But the honest cash in the game will support only a few Connollys in one side at any one time. The sooner this is recognised the better for everybody.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?