Tag Archives: rugby

Free rugby, a most expensive mistake

Eamon Ryan has made me stop and ask myself a question this week, when and where did I start watching rugby?  At home on RTE or BBC?  In the pub on Sky Sports?  When my neighbouring school had a big match?  The answer is option c.  Minister Ryan would have us believe that we all sat down to watch a Six Nations match (or Five Nations match) in our front room and developed a love of the game that way.  If I am completely honest, I did not watch much of the Five Nations when I was younger and the reason for this is not surprising.  Ireland were absolutely terrible and there are only so many times you can watch your nation being beaten to a pulp.  What Minister Ryan is trying to do now could leave us in a situation as bad as those times, rugby we can all watch freely but not necessarily the standard of rugby any of us really want to watch.

Making the Six Nations and the Heineken Cup free-to-air is on first glance a rugby supporter’s dream.  While most of us without husbands, wives and children would probably go to the pub for the big matches, those who do not have the opportunity would be happy indeed.  However, the money generated by the IRFU from pay-per-view is more important to the game than we may ever have imagined.  The IRFU are facing a loss of €12 million worth of TV revenue if the Minister’s plan goes ahead .  Either one of two things would then happen, 1) the IRFU would have to reduce budgets and thus lose players, coaches and scouts to other countries, or 2) they would have to find money from elsewhere.  It is also possible that both of these scenarios could play out.  If the IRFU have to raise money we will see match ticket prices as well as merchandise prices soar.  The very supporter who would be saving money not buying the Sky Sports subscription would be hit from another angle.

Eamon Ryan does seem to have the interest of the general public in mind.  He is trying to provide rugby for the whole nation rather than just those who are willing to pay to watch it.  His argument that only the elite will be able to watch rugby seems ludicrous.  Anyone of any financial status can afford a coke in the local pub if they really want to watch a match.  However, more importantly, rugby has not gained its reputation as an upper class sport because of it being shown on Sky Sports.  The private school culture of rugby has been completely responsible for that.  If he really cares about more children seeing rugby should we not be promoting rugby clubs in disadvantaged areas?  He worries that children will not be inspired to play rugby if they cannot watch it on television.  Surely encouraging more people to play would be of more use than having more people watching from their sitting rooms?  Parents will not be able to afford tickets to matches if the IRFU are forced to increase prices, once again pushing children away from the sport.

The IRFU have claimed that slipping standards, which would inevitably occur if the best Irish players were forced abroad, would also negatively affect them on a world stage.  The International Rugby Board is only willing to listen to the strongest nations.  As a country of just over 4 million people, we have been punching above our weight in this area for a long time.  Weaken our rugby teams and you weaken our hand when it comes to the politics of the game.

So finally I refer back to the question posed at the beginning of the article.  I believe that most people will give the same answer.  If they were not watching their local team in their youth they were playing on it.  The future of Irish rugby lies there, not on RTE 1 or 2.

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US Montmélian vs Marseille Vitrolles

US Montmélian are not an exceptional team.  In fact they are bottom of their group in Fédérale 1, the top amateur rugby league in France.  Yet, their match today against Marseille has attracted a lot of attention as it is the first match Jonah Lomu has played for Marseille since he arrived there less than a month ago.  To celebrate this occasion the match was broadcast on French Eurosport.

The Montmélian players were clearly overwhelmed by the fact that they were on television with the commentators even mentioning how much better the game would be if the cameras were not present.  This was as tough a match as I’ve ever seen.  Three players (two from Montmélian, one from Marseille) were taken off with serious injuries, two having been knocked unconscious and one after landing on his shoulders/neck when he was tackled in the air.  Everyone knew that the semi-professional team of Marseille would be too strong for the Montmélian side which trains for just 4 hours twice a week.  However, the difference in strength is unfathomable.  And this is all before you even consider who was wearing the number 13 shirt for Marseille.

The worst defeat Montmélian had suffered at the hands of Marseille was 42-22 earlier on this season.  Today they lost 63-18.  The loss of two key players in the first half hour due to the aforementioned injuries and the sending off of another for inflicting one of the two concussions meant that they were always on the back foot.  Of the 63 points Marseille scored, Lomu contributed none.  In fact, he only touched the ball a few times.   So why did Marseille win by such a margin?  It would seem that Lomu’s presence on the field was enough to inspire them.  He may not have done much with the ball but he did spend a lot of the match instructing players around him, which clearly paid off.  The fact that anytime he did get the ball it took up to four Montmélian players to stop him, left quite a few gaps, allowing other Marseille players capitalise.  They did so, by scoring nine tries.

Marseille are a club on a mission.  In a city where football is the game of choice this club has undertaken a ‘grand projet de rugby’ as their president calls it.  Lomu is not the only former professional, with several players now living out their retirement in Marseille and playing with a team which aspires to reach the professional leagues within the next two seasons.  This is a good team and Lomu when asked about his impact on the game claimed that he ‘didn’t really have to do much.’  He is just one of many good players on the team and today was certainly not the best.  It has been a long time since he has played so even this ‘living legend’ as a teammate called him, was a bit rusty.

Can Montmélian take anything away from this game?  They really never got into any kind of rhythm, conceding very early in both halves and losing three players early in the game.  They did score 18 points, all penalties and all taken by the same player.  Their number ten converted six of the seven penalties today and he did so in style.  While the team bus may be full of disappointed players and lacking a couple of others who are being hospitalised at present, one player may very well be on the phone to a professional club.  Being on Eurosport may have scared his teammates but his composure on this big occasion would put our own Ronan O’Gara to shame.

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Rugby in Croke Park

Regardless of your interest in sport, any Irish person would find it hard to avoid the talk of the Leinster – Munster Heineken Cup semi-final.  There are several reasons for this.  After Ireland’s success in the Six Nations, the country has been waiting for another display of sporting excellence; alas we cannot expect this to come from other team sports such as soccer so have had to wait for the return of the rugby players.  And while the Irish love donning a green jersey and uniting in sporting patriotism, they embrace equally the opportunity to fight one another on the sports field.  However, the most talked about aspect of this match, perhaps even more than who might win the encounter, is tickets.

The run up to this game has seemed more like the run up to an All Ireland Final than a Heineken Cup semi-final.  The venue, the enthusiasm and the desperate, I will sell a kidney for a ticket, search for a place in that stadium in Drumcondra would quite understandably make you think it was September.  Some say it is all part of the excitement and makes you appreciate the ticket even more if or when you get one.  In fact, between the episodes of sheer stupidity shown by the Irish government in the past week, talk of tickets and ‘where are you watching the match?’ has proven to be a pleasant distraction.  However, the one fact which everyone is trying not to think about is this; in a year’s time, if this event were to happen again (which is certainly possible) the same amount of people would be searching not for one of 82,000 tickets but one of 50,000.

The Aviva Stadium, while undoubtedly world class in quality will always remain inferior to Croke Park in quantity.  Rebuilding on the Lansdowne site was probably not the best option and in fact the proposed Bertie Bowl, in my view, would have been a better choice.  While many doubt the need for two high class sporting venues in a city of one million people, what this weekend shows is that unless the GAA are willing to reach another compromise regarding non-Gaelic sports, the IRFU and the supporters will lose out in the future.

An argument I have heard recently is that rugby and Croke Park are not best suited to one another, in other words, the design of the stadium makes it difficult for many to fully enjoy the game because of the angles and distance from seat to pitch.  Having often sat at the top of the Cusack Stand I can appreciate how difficult is must be to see a game in which the ball often remains on the ground unlike Gaelic sports which are predominantly aerial.  However, not once have I heard anyone claim that they would prefer to stay at home to watch the match than have a seat, good view or bad, in Croke Park.

Over the past three years history has been made by the Irish rugby players in Croke Park, history which has completely overshadowed the past which prevented the game being played there for over a hundred years.  If this is one of the last great games of rugby to be played on the pitch then today is a sad day for Ireland.  GAA headquarters has proven to be a welcome home for rugby and I hope that even after the completion of the Aviva Stadium the gates to Croke Park will remain open to the game.

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Snooker World Championship – A time for change?

Much has changed at the Crucible in the past few decades. Gone are the days when a player smoked a cigarette while his opponent was at the table, the title sponsor, the cigarette manufacturers Embassy were pushed out in 2005 due to British law, Michaela Tabb became the first ever woman to referee a match at the championship in 2003 and the competition is set to move to a purpose built venue sometime in the future. However, one thing which has remained the same is the format of this great competition. Any self respecting snooker fan will clear their schedule for the Sunday and Monday of the May bank holiday weekend, hoping that the final will be a classic and last early into Tuesday morning.

However, while loyal fans embrace the traditional format and regard the two weeks spent in Sheffield as the epitome of snooker, the sport has of late seen a lot of criticism for not adapting and attracting new viewers. One of the harshest critics of the sport is Ronnie O’Sullivan, probably the most entertaining and exciting players of his generation. He claims the sport is ‘dying,’ and hopes that something will be done to increase support. It would seem that something may come in the form of a ‘Super 6s’ format in which the colour balls will remain but the number of red balls will be reduced to six. Their aim is to attract younger audiences to the sport and emulate the success of Twenty20 cricket.

I can certainly understand the situation the snooker world finds itself in. In this modern era of twenty four hour televised sport the amount of viewers at home can have as great a financial impact on a sport as the number of supporters who go to see the action in person. We have already seen new rules introduced in rugby union to make the game faster and supposedly more entertaining for television viewers. Twenty20 cricket was introduced to make the game shorter and closer to the average time span of popular team sports. However, Twenty20 cricket was never envisaged as a format to replace the traditional one unlike this new proposal. We must wonder if this is the future for professional sports? Should the short attention span of someone who has access to twenty five sports channels really dictate the way sport is played?

While the realist in me accepts that this is almost certainly the case and that in order to generate enough money to keep the sport alive television revenue is necessary, I do believe that long after the person in their living room has moved on to the next station, the true fans will be left with a sport completely different to the one they fell in love with. So while this new ‘Super6s’ format may well attract new viewers, it should not alienate the current audience. I am certainly curious and would like to see this format in action but not on the first weekend of May every year and not at the expense of the epic encounters that the World Championship always provides.

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