Sunday 19 November 2017

Tony Ward - A kick in the solar plexus for rugby in this country, but we can bounce back

It ain’t over till it’s over. Photo: REUTERS
It ain’t over till it’s over. Photo: REUTERS
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Were I a betting man, which mercifully I am anything but, the family jewels would have been dug out and stacked behind Ireland getting the official 'consultancy' nod ahead of the vote for the staging of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Nothing has been decided yet but it is clear, with the Irish bid apparently third in the pecking order, that money still holds sway in decision-making at the top table of World Rugby.

I am a long way from the inner sanctum but if ever opportunity knocked to take the staging of the game's biggest tournament to uncharted territory, this was it.

Yes, we've shared in the third-largest event in world sport in times past but this was, and still is, the chance to take the Rugby World Cup to one of its longest-standing members on their own for the first time.

We are not comparing like with like but for those of us involved in the inaugural World Cup in 1987, shared between Australia and New Zealand, that tournament was an eye-opener in many different respects.

Chief amongst them was the poor quality of the stadia or 'paddocks and sheds', as was the Kiwi terminology new to us back then.

Aside from the debacle of James Last's 'Rose of Tralee' being used as our national anthem, in that opening game the playing and changing facilities were archaic.

For that match in Wellington against Wales in Athletic Park - the obvious pool decider before a ball was kicked - the replacements that day, myself included - had to tog out in the showers because of a lack of space in 'the shed'.

No sooner had we got our gear on in wet and windy Wellington then head coach Mick Doyle, in his inimitable manner, was telling us to f*** off out as we were taking up too much space.

The match was barely under way when one of our number - Jim Glennon - was called into action.

The game was still amateur for that inaugural tournament, or so we were led to believe prior to touching down in Christchurch and Auckland.

The only amateur aspect to the All Black preparation was the facilities, which were shockingly sub-standard.

It is quite ironic that we are apparently being castigated 30 years on for our stadia - so many of them state-of-the-art - not being up to the level required.

I was shocked by this preliminary outcome.

No stone has been left unturned in the bidding process, including the direct involvement of An Taoiseach, in our attempt to deliver what would be a sporting festival in 2023.

The South African and French delegations will argue the same but they've had their day, the least we deserve is a crack of the whip for ours.

In rugby terminology this amounts to a kick in the solar plexus.

It is all but telling the Rugby Council which way they should vote. So much for rugby democracy. It is akin to a scrap just before the break in a match against England for the Grand Slam and Championship.

Conor Murray ships an injury and Johnny Sexton sees yellow with wind, hill and sun to face in the second half.

A zany analogy perhaps but that's how it feels at this distance.

I remember about ten years ago when the 2011 and 2015 World Cups were being divvied out (in the Shelbourne if memory serves me right) and Japan had their hat in the ring for both.

Any semblance of fair play allied to the game broadening its horizon seemed to indicate that Asia's time had come. Not a bit of it before New Zealand and England had to have their blast.

We are a sports-daft country but have long been a divided one in which rugby has had a major unifying influence.

A 32-county Rugby World Cup crossing all sporting divides would add to the feel-good factor for this proud nation on the global stage.

As Dick Spring and Philip Browne have attempted to articulate despite yesterday's disappointing finding, all is not yet lost.

We're ten minutes into the second half and behind on the scoreboard but Murray and Sexton are making their way back on.

It ain't over until it's over, but there's some fortnight ahead.

Irish Independent

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