Saturday 21 September 2019

Neil Francis: 'Joe Schmidt must be wondering why Ireland have four games in November instead of three'

'If Joe Schmidt only arrives in Chicago two days before the match then by his own rules of having to train the full week before a Test match, he shouldn’t be the coach for this game.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
'If Joe Schmidt only arrives in Chicago two days before the match then by his own rules of having to train the full week before a Test match, he shouldn’t be the coach for this game.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

It wasn't that far back that Tiger Woods was charging $3m for an appearance fee if you wanted him to pitch up to your golf tournament.

That was five years ago when his star was in decline. Injury brought an abrupt halt to that particular gravy train.

I do remember him hitting driver off the helicopter landing pad on the Burj Al Arab and the balls disappearing into the Indian Ocean faster than the money was leaving the Emirate bank account. Great publicity.

Apparently only once has his fee been baulked at. It is incredible to think that the prize fund in Dubai was only $2.7m and the top prize only somewhere north of $150,000.

The catwalk models may not get out of bed for less than $10,000 but the big cat needs 300 times that plus expenses.

Despite all his woes it seems he is still the number-one draw in the world.

You might have the world's top 20 players in the tournament but the television people and the fans flock to see Tiger and this was evidenced by his win in the Tour Championship.

The All Blacks played their third Bledisloe Cup match in Yokohama last Saturday. The Wallabies were a little bit better than the 37-20 scoreline suggested but they lacked composure and seem to have lost an essential element when playing the Kiwis - being able to operate on the edge.

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The match seemed to lack atmosphere but both sides got a jump on their competitors by getting in a Test match in Japan before the World Cup.

That, in reality, is a moot point for the Kiwis - foreign stadiums, different climates, unfamiliar surroundings, hostile crowds - it doesn't faze them - they could play beautiful, flowing rugby on the Giants Causeway with the tide in.

The real question is how much were they paid to play in Japan and how much will they get paid to leave their shadow squad in Japan to play another Test against the Japanese?

If you want the brand you have got to pay the dough. There was big money on offer in Chicago to play Ireland outside the Test window in 2016 and that trend continues.

We know it continues because premium tickets for the Aviva cost €121 each.

It seems nobody has an issue with paying that price for what will be the biggest and most eagerly-awaited sports contest on this island in 2018.

The English are charging up to £195 (€220) a ticket for the All Blacks game in Twickenham.

Two things are obvious here - one is that the recession is over and two is that the Irish and English fans are covering the cost of bringing New Zealand over to this part of the world.

In 2016 New Zealand were looking to charge £3m (there is that figure again) to play England in a Test match outside of the November window.

The English wouldn't succumb to the price and the match never went ahead.

They could easily have doubled the price of tickets to cover the cost and still have had 250,000 requests for tickets. The All Blacks sell.

How much are they charging for the Aviva gig?

The match in Soldier Field two years ago would appear to have been very healthy from a financial sense for both teams.

I knew hundreds who went but I don't know one person who is travelling for the match against Italy this Saturday. I just wonder what the financial arrangements are.

There must be some incentive for both sides to fly all that way to Chicago. It doesn't matter if they fly first-class, they will be groggy for a week afterwards.

The match will be sandwiched in between the USA women's team against the Silver Ferns and the Maori All Blacks against the US Eagles.

That's a lot of rugby - a lot of pretty average rugby.

Whose idea was this and are we sure that all costs will be covered?

Why would Ireland agree to go to Chicago and play this unnecessary match? The only reason I can think is because it is worth their while financially.

Privately I would guess that Joe is wondering what we are doing playing four matches instead of three in the November window. Why are Ireland engaged in this logistical trek to a faraway country before two huge games for the national side?

If Joe Schmidt only arrives in Chicago two days before the match then by his own rules of having to train the full week before a Test match, he shouldn't be the coach for this game.

Schmidt's priorities lie with the bulk of his senior players in Carton House.

I am reminded of Munster's trip to South Africa to play the Southern Kings and Cheetahs last season and then coming back to Ireland and flying out to Paris for their Champions Cup semi-final. They were asleep for the first 50 minutes. They should have sent the U-20s to South Africa.

In my view Joe shouldn't have brought anyone who will be playing against Argentina or New Zealand to Chicago.

The Italians have brought nobody to Chicago. Their focus is on beating Georgia who are getting too close in the rankings for Conor O'Shea's liking.

Michele Campagnaro will captain the side but the team that was announced is the Italian 'B' side.

They are going to get spanked by 70 points and they already know that. Connacht would beat them - why not send Connacht?

What on earth are we doing sending Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Garry Ringrose and Jacob Stockdale - all definite starters against Argentina and New Zealand - halfway around the world for a 70-0 win when leaving our senior players at home.

The key thing is to rank priorities here. Blooding inexperienced players is fine and dandy.

The only objective in Schmidt's mind this November is to beat New Zealand. Wild-goose chases to Chicago do not aid that cause.

Was there a stipulation in the sponsor's contract that Ireland would have to bring a few recognisable front-liners to America?

The All Blacks are playing Japan in Chofu this Saturday. Their shadow team will do the honours and they will put 70 or 80 points on the 'Brave Blossoms'.

Pleasure

The ticket prices are incidentally €195 for the pleasure of watching the 'A' team. The senior side are in the air, as you read this, in transit to London.

The money is in the bank from the Japanese but the real tests are with Ireland and England who have both beaten the Wallabies in the last year or so. These will be the real tests and not much will distract them from preparing properly.

Steve Hansen, the All Black coach, is looking for a four-month rest for his stars - yet the temptation to play yet more internationals is too much to resist.

The All Black squad will be playing six Test matches in a row on top of a crazy logistical schedule.

There were reasons for putting in a Test window but now it seems everyone is going outside of that.

The naked greed of the Welsh Rugby Union in having a pointless Test match against Scotland in Cardiff this Saturday is purely a revenue-raising gambit.

It just gives you an idea of how mercenary the unions have become.

Given their performances in the RWC 2023 voting they should call this worthless exercise the Iscariot Test match. More grind for their means of production - the players.

All the unions maximise financial gain when they can. No embarrassment factor - Aesop had a fable about the boy who cried wolf - what about the one about the union who cried player welfare.

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