An Open Letter to Sir Clive Woodward
Obtaining appraisal for the RFU in the elegy of England’s Rugby World Cup is baring an uncanny resemblance to getting blood out of the preverbal stone. But this stone seems to have been cut, certainly not a deep wound, but enough to colour this page.
Before this drop of praise begins to flow it must be noted this piece must not be considered an attack of Sir Clive Woodward or his opinion but simply my take on a debate running through every mind rugby inclined, a debate of which he is the most high profile of those who occupy the stool in the other corner. His corner filled with tables being turned and policies being re written; mine with heels dug into canvas, swearing by the book. Those heels include the RFU and Stuart Lancaster, although there is no paucity of heels dug in in the other corner with one set belonging to the rather sizeable frame of Steffon Armitage.
That side doesn’t seem to be fleeing to this side any time soon, as with this side to that. So it’s a face off. Both sides thinking it more beneficial for the other to move and change allegiances. Not happening.
The noise from this corner contains words like monopoly and ungoverned. And that’s what would follow if England scrapped their current overseas laws. It would release the European club game into chaotic abandon; players with no restraint or reason not to join the highest bidders. The game would be governed by money and dictated through the banks. The reign of super club owners will prevail and they will hold the chisel when writing the epitaph of the European club game as we knew it. It encourages players to be led by their wallet and not their loyalty.
If it’s not money that’s stopping players returning, then, from the outside looking in, it looks decidedly like it’s arrogance. And playing with the best teams in Europe as the best players within those teams gives them every right to be confident, but arrogant? No. And arrogant to the point that they feel bigger than the national set up’s rules? Definitely not. That these individuals feel they mustn’t make the same sacrifices and show of dedication that the rest have is the antithesis of humility. These individuals think themselves better than those within the national team that, devoid of any show of ambition or dedication, they should be called upon.
This goes without mentioning the tighter group the ruling brings and the nightmare that would incur if it was changed, of organising training camps, alongside player welfare in relation to player minutes. After all, he who pays the piper, picks the tune.
International rugby should always trump the club game but if done in the right way the RFU’s overseas rule could make both excel. With the current ruling, many feel the RFU hold the keys to Armitage’s, or any other overseas player’s future, but the shoe is on the wrong foot there; Armitage and every other English player overseas are the controllers.
If they wished to play for their country and compete in a World Cup with the opportunity of winning it, they would return. However, they believe themselves talented enough to have their cake and eat it, to have chocolate on both sides of the biscuit, to earn themselves a pocket of silver and a red rose. Every other player in that England squad abided by the rules, so must these individuals.
A strategy, although, that may combat this can ensue if the RFU can control who goes overseas and when and possibly where, then both sides of the game can excel. This is the utopian situation they and other nations should strive for. Enforce the RFU’s ruling, send your international players or future internationals out at the start of a World Cup cycle and let them play with and learn from the best but dictate when they come back to a club on home soil. You may lose an international standard player for a year or two but in the hope they return better from abroad whether Top 14 or Super Rugby or wherever. This will lead sides to target the World Cup which needs to be the case and use Six Nations as a building block.
If you look at Jonny Sexton. He played a lot of rugby for Racing Metro and Ireland, but also had injury trouble throughout the last two seasons. If he had not had international rugby over those seasons he may have not been injured or as injury prone as has occurred. And maybe if his move was better positioned in terms of the World Cup then there is no knowing what standard Sexton or Ireland may have performed to at this World Cup.
There aren’t many comparable situations for this strategy outside Sexton’s, in recent years, so it is a case of heading into the unknown but if national set ups can take the bull by the horns in terms of all rugby played within the nation then it’s a strategy with obvious rewards and possibly a World Cup.
So I call to you, Sir Clive, and your entourage, to pick up your spades, dig up your heels and join this corner.