David Flatman: More sweat and more girls. Summer rugby turns me on
From the Front Row: A February to November season will pick up the pace and skill levels, so let's have fun in the sun
Sunday 24 April 2011
There are pros and cons for the larger gentleman when the British summer decides to kick in. Whether it is in the front row of a scrummage an hour into a rugby match or in a rattan chair outside a country pub, any significant jump in ambient temperature can have severe consequences. Increased likelihood of anti-social perspiration makes one's dress code more important than ever and any physical effort is made all the more gruelling by the heat.
So who would ever want to play summer rugby? Hard grounds chewing up all the skin on your feet, fluid pouring out of you and all in these nasty, modern, super-tight jerseys. Well, I wouldn't mind, actually.
There are decent arguments against changing rugby's season to, say, February to November, and television rights are probably the most significant one. The sport needs that cash so, in a sense, will do as the boss says but I really think that if the right people took it seriously and tried it, the results would be worth the effort.
Certainly I think we would see a step up in skill levels and in the general pace of the game. You could argue, though, that the skills currently on show are of a high standard and the game is plenty quick enough and, to a point, I would agree with that.
I seldom play a Premiership match and have time to consider much but the three inches in front of my face and this suggests that we are generally moving pretty quickly from point to point. And I quite often find myself applauding wonderful touches and pieces of individual brilliance while watching at home. But these aren't the reasons that I would make these changes.
I just think it would be nicer. I am not one of these Britons who bemoan the rainy, sludgy winters and spend an inordinate amount of time frustrated by our climate's unpredictability. No, I love living in England and I love the weather. But things just look better in the sun and rugby is, after all, a spectacle.
Yes, there is a certain romance in waterproofing your whole body and actually paying to sit in the rain for two hours, and I think to lose that would be to dilute a lot of what gives British rugby its soul. But, with fixtures starting not long after New Year and ending not long before Christmas, the muddy dogfight at Kingsholm would still exist. The freezing cold, sopping wet and painfully windy Sunday afternoon in Newcastle would too. This is Britain, remember, anything can happen.
It would also serve to synchronise us with the southern hemisphere game. This might not be a priority to everyone – me included – but it would probably offer the sort of consistency and uniformity of structure that could only help the game to grow.
The Super 15 is a great tournament and some of the rugby on show is breathtaking, but I don't think our game would ever change to that extent. In these lands we have a deep love for the rough stuff, we take pride in surrendering nothing to the elements and we all love a good driving maul, don't we? The emphasis on aggression at the breakdown and solidity at the set-piece is our tradition and I would hate for that to disappear; it's why many of us love the game.
A repositioned season would still have all that, it would just improve conditions – both playing and spectating – for more games per year. The mudpluggers get their fix at either end but those who might not have bothered would surely be more likely to attend if they could watch in their sunglasses, not their anoraks.
An Australian friend of mine once told me that, in his opinion, the "sunshine Sheilas" were the biggest perk of the warm-weather game. I assume by this he meant the pretty girls in the crowd who, seemingly, one cameraman is always paid to locate and zoom in on, and he might have something here. Over the years I've lifted weights in many different gyms and one thing I have noticed is that players invariably try harder and lift more when there are girls about. It's true.
Our wives regard this as pathetic but I say that it's nature at work; we may as well start beating our chests and snacking on leaves.
I think I could wear the odd blister and suffer the odd bout of inner-thigh chafing if the rewards were right. I might have to hit the treadmill in preparation for the even tighter kit but, frankly, with the way the game is going, that's already an issue! Once acclimatised, I just think playing most of our rugby in the sun would be more fun, and that's the game, isn't it?
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