The rugby I have seen so far has been marvellously exciting, not the attritional play I imagined professionalism would bring

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Nothing had prepared me, I confess, for the professional rugby I have seen so far this season. For as long as I can remember, I have been in favour of paying players. But I thought a teacher should remain a teacher, a policeman a policeman, a sales rep a sales rep. He would simply be paid something extra both for the disruption to his life which rugby training brings about and for his abilities on the field.

This, I thought, was what rugby could stand financially. It would be run as county cricket ought to be if its organisers had any sense. Players would be paid, but would not expect to earn a full-time living from the game.

My much-missed friend, the late Clem Thomas, told me I was mistaken. He said there would no longer be any room in the game for persons such as himself, both businessman and journalist. What Clem actually said, I clearly remember, was that rugby would be turned into a "game for the Moriartys of this world". He was referring to the famous - or notorious - brothers from Swansea, Richard and Paul.

Well, on present evidence, Clem was right, and I wrong; or, at any rate, he was more right than I was. Take, for example, the case of the open- side flank Gwyn Jones. Last season, he appeared suddenly in the Welsh side (as suddenly as John Taylor had done 30 years previously), but turned out to be one of the outstanding players in the Five Nations' Championship.

Jones was a medical student at Cardiff, but played for Llanelli. At the end of the season, it was announced that he had transferred to the Cardiff club, but so far this season I have caught no sight of him. It may be that he is injured.

But when I mentioned his prospects to Brian Moore, the former England international replied that he doubted whether it would any longer be possible for a young man to train as a doctor and remain part of the first-class game.

Moore, as we know, is a solicitor, and has transported himself from Harlequins to Richmond, where he plays as an amateur. He is undoubtedly wise. Richmond has numerous gifted players on its payroll in addition to Moore. I do not see how they can all be highly paid indefinitely.

Richmond's backer is Ashley Levett, who once cornered the copper market, or something very like it. He lives for most of the time in Monte Carlo, although he was present at the Richmond-Newcastle game in the company of a good-looking blonde. How long will it be, I wonder, before Levett loses interest, or finds it difficult or impossible to continue in his present benevolent position?

Sir John Hall is a slightly different proposition. He regards himself as Mr Newcastle, a position once held by the late T Dan Smith. While I have no doubt that Sir John's affairs are in better order than Smith's turned out to be, for how long will his patience last?

If there is no promotion to the First Division at the end of the season, or if promotion is to be confined to one club only and that club happens not to be Newcastle, will Sir John be prepared to sit it out for another season in the Second Division?

But I did not mean to write a gloomy column, for the rugby I have seen so far has been marvellously exciting, not the attritional play which (again erroneously) I imagined professionalism would bring with it.

The various changes in the laws have had something to do with it, but so also have the players from rugby league: not only Jason Robinson and Henry Paul for Bath, but Robbie Paul and, above all, Gary Connolly for Harlequins. (Martin Offiah has yet to make his first appearance for Bedford because of a mysterious injury to his toe.)

Great centres are very rare, rarer than great outside-halves. Wales won its successes a quarter of a century ago with run-of-the-mill centres behind a succession of great outside- halves. Connolly reminds me more than anyone of that superb French centre Jo Maso. He has the same deceptively casual appearance, the same acceleration through a gap, the same lovely hands and the same ability to time a pass. I do not know what his plans are in relation to a return to league, but he would clearly be an adornment to any English side.

In the meantime, however, I hope that clubs are prohibited from numbering their players, as Harlequins do, from one to 37. I hope too that someone sorts out the award of a penalty try, which has now reached ridiculous proportions. And something must be done about it.

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