By Michael Bolan of the Moscow Dragons
I remember the Five Nations, when a try was worth four points. I remember the greats of the age, the likes of Andy Irvine and Ollie Campbell, Jean-Pierre Rives and even (though it pains me to admit it) Bill Beaumont. The buildup to the matches was intense – this was, effectively, the international rugby season. There was the occasional tour, both home and away, but the Tri-Nations wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen and no one knew what a Waratah was! The Five Nations spoke to me of a specific period of the year, when watching rugby was as important as playing and if you were lucky enough, you might even get taken to see one of the games.
I took stock of the situation on a Saturday evening a few weeks back, when I found out that Wales had beaten Romania 40 points to 3. I had noticed something of the game when perusing the rugby Internet, but it hadn’t really stuck. This was a full international that had somehow passed me by. Living in Moscow, we tend to use such occasions as an excuse to get together and have a few beers as none of us have the necessary satellite kit to get Sky at home. And this one disappeared into the morass of anonymity.
Why? One of the major factors must be overload. I’ve written in the past of our “season” which means we play when we can, not fixed to summer or winter. Suddenly it seems that the powers-that-be have taken a lesson from us. What with Ireland’s epic journey to Russia and then home to Georgia and the Tri-Nations and Argentina all touring this autumn, our social calendar is already looking quite full. Over the next few weeks, Ireland will play three of their four group members from next year’s World Cup.
Watching Ireland beat Australia in a sodden Landsdowne Road was indeed a memorable occasion, especially as I remember Ollie Campbell kicking them to their last victory 23 long years ago. But it doesn’t really mean anything in the long run, as Australia were missing several key players, the focus wasn’t there, etc. etc.
Who is pushing this? On one hand we hear complaints of player burn-out and we see the rising numbers of top players sidelined through injury, but still the number of games is on the rise. Now I understand that Ireland forced themselves into the World Cup Qualifiers after their performance in Lens, but the problem goes much deeper than that. Apparently the fault lies with the media moguls who are pushing any rugby event.
If that is so, why did no one really want the Six Nations? With Sky and BBC squabbling in the UK to see if they could underbid each other, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the true rugby player. The cream of the Northern Hemisphere is being devalued by an excess of Super 12, Tri-Nation, tour matches and random ’friendlies’. And the gossip and slanging over the proposed North-South match – handbags at dawn.
So where do we go? On one side, we have the players themselves (of all levels) and on the other side, the businesspeople of rugby, the ‘57 old farts’ of Will Carling fame. And somewhere in between, there must lay a compromise. Just don’t ask me what the solution is, I’ll be too busy in the pub watching a series of random tour matches to worry about such weighty considerations.