Certainly all the talk is about the loot that may be expected. It’s not of course anything like as scandalous as FIFA’s award of football’s World Cup to Qatar, but it is nevertheless bizarre. I guess they had better now amend the articles concerning qualification to ensure that the host country will be represented.
This decision follows hard on their dog’s breakfast proposals for World Rugby’s latest scheme for a global championship to be staged every two years. Does anyone outside the Dublin-based organisation want this? Is there a clamour for it? Or is one of Scotland best and most experienced rugby writers in Alastair Reid correct when he asserts that “it appeals to absolutely no one outside the inner circle of those who stand to make a tidy profit from the change?” I guess he is. “Radix malorum est cupiditas”: Greed is the root of evil things.
Ostensibly, of course, this is intended to “spread the game” and benefit countries ranked in rugby’s lower tiers. No doubt this is a laudable ambition. One can think however of easier and better ways of doing this. One might be to require tier 1 countries to commit themselves to sending A or B teams to play international matches there – as, indeed, for example Scotland will be playing an A international against Chile this summer.
This “global championship” is a ghastly proposal. It is already recognised that far too much is demanded of players and that fixture lists should be pruned, not expanded. By December Scotland will have played 12 full internationals in 2022. Is this desirable? Doesn’t it take something from the individual games? It’s a bit like the old line about American tourists in Europe: if it’s Wednesday, I guess this city is Florence.
Bizarrely, too, the more money comes in to the game, with private equity companies buying stakes in the Six Nations and professional leagues, the more the ordinary rugby supporter is priced out. How many members of rugby clubs – the people who keep the amateur game going – can now afford to take their young families to Murrayfield?
Still, enough moaning. There are at least two enticing Heineken semi-finals this weekend, though of course it is sad that Edinburgh and Glasgow both failed to reach that stage in the Challenge Cup, both losing matches which at some stage in the game each looked capable of winning. Edinburgh’s defeat at home to a far from outstanding Wasps side being particularly disappointing, Glasgow’s loss away to Lyon being more forgivable. So the only Scot now left in this season’s Cups is Finn Russell. He scored a remarkable try last week, but will surely need to be at his magical best of Racing 92 are to beat La Rochelle and reach the final.
The game in Dublin between Leinster and Toulouse this afternoon is fascinating. Leinster are so good that any Scot’s admiration for them is tinged with jealousy. Their ability to play 15-man rugby, with quick ball from the tackle point and adroit changes in the line of attack is unrivalled in the Northern hemisphere. Johnny Sexton, benefitting from his intelligent and speedy New Zealand scrum-half, Jamison Gibson-Park, is astonishing, playing at least a well as ever – some might say better than ever. Some in Ireland have even been saying that Gibson-Park is the equal of Antoine Dupont, though Brian O’Driscoll hit that claim firmly on the head this week, going so far as to call it nonsense.
Still, though Toulouse depend greatly on Dupont and his half-back partner Romain Ntamack – surely the best pairing in the world today. Toulouse will need their hugely powerful forwards to secure some ascendancy if Leinster are to be beaten in Dublin. I can imagine, but don’t expect, to see it happening. For one thing Toulouse had a brutally hard game, which went to extra time, against Munster last week, while Leinster beat Leicester away more comfortably than the final score 23-14 might suggest. Not long ago I suspect that most of us here in Scotland would have been rooting for Leinster. Now I’m not so sure. We are all a bit jealous of Irish rugby now. This is understandable, if not to our credit.