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.

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

Training/Learning and Development Coordinator -London

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Training/Learning and Development Co...

Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried