Chasing a fast buck not the way forward
Published 13/03/2010 | 05:00
A couple of intriguing decisions made this week will stimulate a fair degree of debate in international rugby.
Firstly, the introduction of Argentina into the Tri-Nations, a competition that has featured the powers of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia for the past 14 seasons and has generated a fair amount of controversy as the trio seek to transform the laws by which the game is played; changes which seem dedicated to appeasing the demands of television ratings and improving financial returns.
This philosophy has inspired the so-called new law interpretations, a move that has been greeted less enthusiastically in the northern hemisphere, where the pursuit of the euro and sterling is far from a priority.
In the last World Cup, more than two million spectators watched the matches in France. In this season's Six Nations, a European tournament in its 127th season, more than a million people will pack the grounds and when you consider the prices for the match tickets, which are already all sold out -- well, do your own maths.
When considering the gates down south, it doesn't need the intervention of the FBI or Hercule Poirot to work out why the southern hemisphere wants to promote a more prettyfied game.
The second intriguing decision this week was to introduce two Italian clubs to the Magners League. This move may well improve the quality of the pasta but it will certainly dilute the hitherto Celtic aura of the competition. Will the Italian clubs be capable of decent opposition, or will the addition prove merely to put additional pressure on already overplayed professionals? I suspect the latter, but we'll see.
But back to those new law interpretations. While a few of the suggestions are worthwhile, I wonder about the backing of the International Rugby Board's referee coordinator, Paddy O'Brien, who, despite his name, is a New Zealander. Whatever about his zest for the new interpretations, it can hardly be termed a success, considering the bizarre inconsistencies among his crew of international referees.
Not only are reasonably knowledgeable spectators puzzled at a number of refereeing decisions, but, clearly, the players are often just as confused.
Two areas will have to be changed. Referees are allowing players to enter rucks at the side when the law clearly states they must join behind the hindmost foot. Then there are the set scrums, which sorely confuses TV and radio commentators.
At least they have recourse to the referee's microphone where they hear his verdict and, at least, can interpret his verdicts. But it is so unsatisfactory.
However, the glorified 'Sevens' style being promoted by the south is clearly not the answer.
And finally, Ireland should win today, but they'd better watch for flashes of Welsh wizardry, similar to what they demonstrated in the last minute of their win over Scotland.