WHAT has happened to our game?
We now live in a world where what materialises off the ball seems to be far more important than what happens when the ball is in play.
Long gone seems to be the days of picking up a paper and reading about the tangible contents of a game.
The skills of the players, the great defensive efforts, the dark arts of scrummaging, the magnificent fielding capabilities of the back three and so on. Now, all that seems to matter is the off-the-ball incidents, the high tackles, what coaches say in post- and pre-game press conferences and who got engaged to who.
Maybe the game is turning into a watered-down version of soccer but whatever is happening I hope it stops soon.
Just think about it, with regards to this year’s Six Nations, what have been the talking points?
Anyhow, apart from the Coronavirus which is an unprecedented event, here are a few of the headlines that have adorned the various newspapers and social media platforms.
‘Joe Marler faces season-ending ban for grabbing Jones’ groin in Wales game’
‘Mohamed Haouas sent off against Scotland’
‘Manu Tuilagi sees red as England secure Twickenham Triple Crown’
‘Eddie Jones is the Donald Trump of Rugby’
‘Finn Russell out of Irish game for breaking team protocol’
‘Johnny Sexton has told Ronan O’Gara to mind his own business after ROG said he should not captain Ireland’
The whole concussion debate has already had a big impact on where parents send the next generation and we don’t need the bad advertising of the ball-grabbing, decapitating tackles and attention-seeking coaches.
I fully understand that bad news sells. However the danger is that the true values of what rugby union means are being undermined and deterring parents from encouraging their kids to pick up the oval ball. Remember with no grassroots, we have no game.
This year’s campaign will, unfortunately, be remembered as the year that a virus shut down the Six Nations. These fixtures are not like your local junior games that have been called off because of a waterlogged or frozen pitch. The logistics involved in organising a Six Nations fixture are just mind-boggling.
As a player, this kind of news is just devastating.
The group I feel most sorry for are the Irish U20s who to date had won their three games and were playing a brand of rugby that was easily worthy of them bringing home a Grand Slam. From what I’ve seen in these victories, I would have no issues what so ever in promoting them to the senior ranks.
If a player is good enough, he is old enough and if we are ever going to seriously compete for a World Cup, we need to be brave and give these youngsters an opportunity just as France are doing.
Former French scrum-half and French captain Fabien Galthié, who has taken over from the beleaguered Jacques Brunel named 19 uncapped players in his Six Nations squad with their average age 24. Yes, these adolescents will make mistakes but in four years they’ll compete for the World Cup.
We’ll probably be asking Rory Best and Peter Stringer to come out of retirement.
I also feel sorry for the new Irish coaching ticket because games are what they need in order to establish their stamp on how the team goes about their business. You can have training session after training session and flog players as hard as you want, but there is nothing you can do to replicate the intensity or the challenges that a full-blown international fixture asks of a player.
The next time Ireland are due to take to the field and lace up their boots in anger will be in Australia (in July) for a two-test series and I would be bitterly disappointed if these tests are not used to blood a vast amount of this current U20 squad.
If players like Sexton, O’Mahony, Furlong, Stander, Murray, Toner and Healy are brought on this tour it will be a disgrace. I’m not suggesting that these players are finished, but what would be the point?
It’s rest they need not game time.
What we need to see is names that are not known to the public such as David McCann, number eight, Brian Deeny and Thomas Ahern second rows, Jack Crowley fly-half and centres Dan Kelly and Hyden Hyde all of whom have impressed at U20 and AIL level.
Please also spare a thought for the lads from CBC and PBC who were due to meet in the final of this year’s Munster schools cup final. It is imperative that the Munster Branch do everything in their power to make sure this game is played.
The effort by both players and coaches alike in these establishments is not that far off what you would see in a fully-fledged professional set up and it would be just devastating for all involved if the game was never to be played.
For now, all the players can do is return to their provinces and see what happens.
We are in uncharted waters and who knows where all this will end.