Tuesday 20 February 2018

Paris paints bleak picture

In the rush to heap scorn on the French Rugby Federation for the crude manner in which it handled last week's postponed Six Nations game between France and Ireland at the Stade de France and in the wave of sympathy that poured in for out-of-pocket Irish supporters who had made the journey, did we miss the bigger picture of what such a shameful episode said about the current state of the sport?

That those who had paid heavily for the right to be present in the stadium should be so casually disregarded was disgraceful but hardly news. Isn't that the reality of modern commercial sport? It's less than two years, after all, that the IRFU were charging supporters €100 for the privilege of watching New Zealand and South Africa at the Aviva Stadium and only after howls of protest were ticket prices subsequently reduced to more acceptable levels.

If there was a real loser last weekend, surely it was international rugby. In a sense that isn't surprising. The history of football shows us, among other things, how difficult it is to maintain a vibrant international game alongside a thriving club set-up and would it be a shock if, in say 20 years, the most powerful European clubs had got their way and rid themselves of the nuisance that is international football?

Right now the Six Nations lacks zip and the memory of a World Cup that was needlessly elongated and heavily biased against the weaker teams is still vivid. Think too of the once-mighty Lions tours and those midweek games that are beginning to lose their traction and the summer tours that, increasingly, fail to capture the public's imagination and you have, at the very least, a sport that has serious issues.

The IRFU's priority remains the national side, of course, and that isn't likely to change any time soon. But right now it seems to be asking too much for players to be at full pitch for critical Heineken Cup matches for their provinces in January and to peak again for Ireland a month later and perhaps it is possible that Declan Kidney is attracting too much criticism for issues that are not really of the Ireland coach's making.

It's just a thought.


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