17th April 2007 By Munster Rugby
Rugby is a business, in which people have invested money and it would be better to listen to someone like Blanco rather than being critical, says Thomas Castagnede in his regular column in The Guardian newspaper.
Now Castaignede is somewhat unique on several counts. He is or was certainly was one of the finest talents to grace a rugby field and is one of the few (only ?) current players who has a weekly column in a national newspaper. Yes there are a plethora of players who write columns, or to be accurate, have columns written for them during the Six Nations and World Cups but few who combine both in the course of the season.
And in sharp contrast to some of these celebrity bland bombshells, Monsieur Castaignede usually has something interesting to say and can do so himself and with a skill that indicates what his chosen career will be once his love of handling the oval ball has finally punctured.
“This weekend’s European semi-finals” writes Castaignede,” will be played out in an extraordinary context: they may be the last, in this format at least. It’s impossible to discuss the games without venturing into the politics behind the French and English clubs’ proposed boycott.
“I feel it’s important to say a few things about the International Rugby Board’s chairman, Syd Millar, to respond to the hard words he came out with recently about Serge Blanco, the head of the French clubs’ body. I think all we rugby players feel a bit detached from what is going on, but what Blanco has said about the importance of club rugby reflects the way I see the situation as a player.
Blanco is a former international, and so is Millar, but Blanco is also one of the club presidents, and a man who understands the economics of club rugby, the difficulty in finding sponsors and in bringing on young players, and the constant need for success on the pitch. When someone with Blanco’s stature and background speaks out that sounds an alarm bell, and we need to listen.
Millar’s criticisms of the stance that Blanco has taken reminded me of a president of an old totalitarian regime in Eastern Europe, trying to cling on to his fiefdom. But the days are over when four or five men in suits smoking cigars decided everything in the game. Rugby is a business, in which people have invested money and it would be better to listen to someone like Blanco rather than being critical.
I’m not saying this because I happen to share Blanco’s French nationality but because I feel like the child of parents who are divorced, who keep arguing – all I can do is watch. I think Millar needs to return to reality. French rugby was in at the birth of the European Cup and it would not exist if the French clubs hadn’t stood by the competition. No one would gamble casually with that inheritance.
In the European Cup the clubs are the actors – and in Hollywood the money doesn’t all go to the producer of the film. There are other issues to be dealt with as well: international rugby generates a lot of money, and the rewards need to be spread evenly around the nations such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, who are not well represented on the IRB but who come to the World Cup and help create the spectacle”.
Now contrast what Castaignede has to say with Northampton Chairman Keith Barwell’s utterances in today’s Guardian (Tue). According to him, “a billionaire entrepreneur could try to take advantage of the power struggle gripping European rugby and persuade top clubs to join a breakaway league”.
Of course they could. So where have these billonaire entreprenaurs been up to now ?
Barwell it seems, “wouldn’t be surprised if a Kerry Packer-style figure saw this stand-off as a chance to seize control of northern hemisphere rugby”. (Not more weapons of mass destruction surely ?).
Barwell tells us that “A few times in my [12-year] tenure as club chairman a Packer-style person has approached us. They’ve said, ‘Guys, would you play in this new league? I’ll give each club £3m.’ (Is that about the amount they get anyway from RFU ?).
Really Keith ? That’s amazing. How many times is a few ? And I wonder did this same ‘Packer-style person’ approach the Scots and the Welsh or the Irish. Probably not because when people like Barwell use the term ‘northern hemisphere’, what they actually mean is the English and French clubs. Oh, first division clubs that is.
Now back to Thomas C. A lot of what he says makes sense. There has to be compromise. The RFU need to give a little. As indeed do the clubs (PRL). And the type of statement that came from IRB last week needs to be edited before it’s released. Nor do we need one of our own IRFU people calling a major player in the whole sad affair names.
The Barwellian promise – “Give us another 10 years and you’ll see the clubs in full ascendancy, with the RFU reduced to a figurehead role in the game” – coupled with Mark McCafferty vision for future Heineken Cups (expanded to 44 clubs) highlights the importance of the respective Rugby Unions. It is they that need to seize the asylum back from the lunatics.
And anytime soon would be grand.