The David Corkery column: I fear for the future of rugby in a post-Covid world

The David Corkery column: I fear for the future of rugby in a post-Covid world
Conor Murray of the British & Irish Lions during the Third Test match against the New Zealand All Blacks three years ago. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

GREED on a global stage, restlessness amongst the amateurs and deep concerns by all.

It’s very hard to get your head around what is transpiring with world rugby at this time.

Setting to one side the global pandemic that has brought many adjustments to all our lives, rugby as an entire entity finds itself at a crossroads and if the correct route isn’t selected it could have disastrous consequences for the game going forward.

Money is yet again the common denominator in all this unrest and no matter what statements the various unions around the globe are spewing out, you can be 100% certain that whatever agreement they will sign will be the one that yields them the greatest financial return, irrespective of the damage it causes to the grassroots of the game.

For me, the main two issues that World Rugby needs to address is that they have lost sight of where the game has come from, nor is it evolving quick enough to keep up with the constant need to regenerate the numbers participating in the sport.

It is not reaching the global audience that it could be, nor is it doing enough to attract the younger generation and entice them away from the other sports that are on offer.

All its efforts are concentrated on funding the professional game and if they don’t rethink the entire process of how they cultivate the U8s of today into becoming the internationals of tomorrow, their product will become so specialised the numbers will dwindle away to nothing.

Just take a visit to any rugby club in any part of the country on a Saturday morning and all you will see is swarms of underage kids strutting their stuff.

On display, you will marvel at the oversized scrum caps where the poor misfortunes can’t even see where they are going, mouth guards that would fit Black Beauty, shorts that could easily propel a sailboat and a level of enthusiasm that you would only find at a Rolling Stones concert attended by mid-aged ladies.

The problem only arrives when these kids get older and are forced into an elitist system where only the very best will stay absorbed in all that the game has to offer.

The drop off rate in rugby is just frightening and now just like I asked you to visit any rugby club on a Saturday morning I ask you to do the same on a Tuesday and Thursday night when most clubs train their adult teams.

What you will see are empty dressing rooms, sparsely populated fields and empty car parks, and why is this?

Because when the kids who ran about so passionately on the Saturday morning are deemed not good enough to make their schools or clubs first XV, they just give up or go somewhere else where they will feel appreciated and not embarrassed.

Long gone are the days of when the senior clubs in Cork, Limerick, Dublin and Belfast could field five, six or in some cases seven adult teams on any given weekend.

Most clubs today can’t even field an U20s side, not to mention a second’s team and whilst not all clubs are in the same boat the ones who are not have had to work their arses off to build their numbers.

The reasons why players played in the lower leagues is now a thing of the past and the fun that once adorned every 2nds, 3rds, 4ths and 5ths dressing rooms has been eroded away by the insatiable thirst for money that the professional game needs to operate.

Playing seconds rugby is now deemed as nothing but an inconvenience for most.

Take the IRFU’s All-Ireland League structure as an example and financial strain it places on the clubs.

In its current guise it has teams traveling from Cork to Belfast perhaps three or four times a year depending on which league they operate from.

On average, it costs a Cork based club €5k between, travel costs, food and hotel accommodation every time they travel north, and this is money they have to generate themselves via sponsorship and contributions from past members.

It’s a constant struggle and it’s the same sponsors and same past members that are having to did deep.

If the arrival of Covid-19 has brought anything positive, its that the league this year will be cut to nine games and it has resurrected the provincial senior leagues where local derbies will once again attract great interest amongst the rugby-loving public.

Con against College, Dolphin v Sunday’s Well, Midleton against Highfield and so on. Who knows these games might even generate a bit of cash through the turn styles and a few pints of porter being sold in the bar. Social distancing permitting.

With regards to the international game that also needs an injection of freshness.

Blues rugby training at Alexandra Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Picture: INPHO/Photosport/Andrew Cornaga
Blues rugby training at Alexandra Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Picture: INPHO/Photosport/Andrew Cornaga

It’s the same old structure year after year with the World Cup standing as the blue-ribbon event which only transpires once every four years.

Yes, we have the Six Nations but it’s very much fatigued now, and it needs a shot of adrenalin.

There needs to be some kind of relegation system in place where teams like the USA, Canada, Japan and Argentina can be added to the mix.

Italy are a spent force and their continued participation is not good for them and not good for the competition.

Former Argentinian international Agustin Pichot who lost narrowly in his attempt to succeed England Bill Beaumont in the race to become chairman of World Rugby had plans to really shake up the system by introducing a new vision for the game’s global calendar which would have seen countries competing in three leagues of 12 teams with promotion and relegation between each league.

The model was criticized by the International Rugby Players Council and some of the game’s leading players, but Pichot maintains that the sport needs a system that creates a pathway for emerging nations.

By doing this he yearned to break up the small handful of countries that dominate the global game and give the smaller nations a realistic chance to compete with the likes of New Zealand, South Africa and England.

Let there be little doubt about it that rugby is enduring a very difficult period in its history and unless changes are forth coming the future for both the amateur and professional adaptations of the game are in grave danger.

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