Aidan Smith: Japan handicapped by TV’s power

The Japan players are a picture of dejection during their defeat by Scotland, a match that came just four days after their win over South Africa. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images
The Japan players are a picture of dejection during their defeat by Scotland, a match that came just four days after their win over South Africa. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images
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THAT was a good win for Scotland against Japan, and we were all glad of it, but huge sympathy must go to the Brave Blossoms, forced to play again so soon after their heroics against South Africa.

Japan’s reward for that victory – the kind rugby always needs, to show it’s not a predictable sport, and that the little guys can sometimes topple the giants – was another game just 96 hours later.

That’s insufficient time to recover from the big hits dished out by an elite team and they don’t come much bigger than the Springboks. Japan started well enough against the Scots but it was – that word again – predictable they would tire in the second half. “We knew they would fade,” said Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw.

Eddie Jones, Japan’s coach, blamed TV for the quick turnaround. “There should be a greater spread of fixtures,” he said. “The reason there isn’t is television, so go and ask the TV guys why it doesn’t happen.”

World Cup broadcaster ITV would have wanted another Japan match as soon as possible: the shock of the result and the comic-book manner by which it was achieved, with a win-or-bust decision to run the ball, had captured the imagination of viewers with only a casual interest in rugby, or indeed none at all.

But Japan v Us wasn’t suddenly rushed forward in the schedules; it was always four days away as a tough ask for Jones’ team who couldn’t have been expected to be able to produce another towering performance quite so quickly. Rugby players can’t go again like footballers and the tournament does the sport and its participants a huge disservice with this crazy programming.

Four days’ rest would be unfair on any of the competing teams but, of course, not all of them are being asked to re-engage quite so soon. England got eight days between their opener and last night’s clash with Wales – long enough for the team to have dispersed for a mini-break somewhere nice. How does the rest of the tournament pan out for the hosts? Oh, another week’s R&R before playing Australia, then a further one prior to their final pool match.

Well, it is England’s tournament, I suppose. Meanwhile Scotland have to do the four-day switchover to take on the USA today. The Gloucester game had attracted some of rugby’s most estimable correspondents, some of whom had previously questioned Scotland’s right to a place at the Six Nations top table, but the outcome they might have wanted to continue Japan’s thrilling narrative didn’t materialise.

For those watching at home, does rugby on ITV still strike you as odd? It does me.

Here’s a sport that needs and deserves detailed analysis and the ad breaks will always be annoying.

There’s also the sense that the only stuff that really matters on this channel are Coronation Street’s “live deaths” and the last-ever, and doubtless grossly overcooked, series of Downton Abbey. Everything else is just grouting.

The Scots, though, must be glad they didn’t have to play Japan first, otherwise we might be looking at a must-win this afternoon with all the anxiety that could bring to our play, as opposed to the five-try confidence we should now have at Elland Road. So, ha ha, thanks to the schedulers for that – you got something right.

Ladbrokes’ sack-race bets are a bad advert for Scottish football, and it’s time the SPFL said so

I’M THE wrong guy to ask about the pleasures to be got from gambling, not having been involved in any kind of bet since childhood. As was traditional among families, we all jabbed the Grand National list of runners and riders with a pin, and while my father nipped into the bookie’s we waited in the car before continuing on to the temperance society picnic (joke). Then when two of our horses ended up being put down after a mass pile-up, the ritual stopped.

But they all look like they’re having such a good time, these blokes you see in ads for gambling nowadays: a typical bunch watching the big football match down the pub, laughing and joshing with each other in a relaxed, chunky-knit way. No pasty faces from spending too long fiddling with the tiny pens only ever found in betting shops. No furtiveness or desperate expressions. Oh yes, gambling’s dead normal now. Lots of people do it, not just those who can’t afford to, and what do the slogans say? “It matters more when there’s money on it.”

You wonder what Ian Baraclough thinks of the SPFL’s decision to get into bed with a betting firm which invites us to have a flutter on the manager most likely to be sacked so it can benefit from someone losing their job. Ladbrokes, along with others, sent out emails about slashed odds on Baraclough being that man, just before Motherwell dispensed with his services, but only Ladbrokes are league sponsors.

When that deal was unveiled back in May, the SPFL were accused of being hypocritical, given they’d come down hard on players caught gambling on matches. But chief executive Neil Doncaster, pictured, insisted there was no conflict of interest, saying: “I think Ladbrokes have responsible gambling at the heart of their philosophy and it’s something we buy into.”

So what does Doncaster say now that we’re getting an idea of what Ladbrokes want from the tie-up? How can betting on people being made redundant be considered remotely responsible? Or decent or humane or what we want kids to be exposed to?

The lifting of the advertising ban has enabled betting firms to reach for some kind of respectability but they must be finding some resistance, given that they’ve made just about every aspect of football, and any eventuality, bet-worthy. Either that or they’re downright greedy.

Doncaster might argue that beggars can’t be choosers, that no one was sponsoring the SPFL before Ladbrokes came along. But talk of “philosophy” and this being something our game should be “buying into” is just crass when we see betting encouraged on sackings. Football is not cock-fighting.

Alex Smith of the League Managers’ Association was admirably quick to condemn betting on the sack race and you hope he can get Ladbrokes to withdraw it from Scotland. It’s existed in England for a while and with their league’s obscene wealth seems better suited there.