Recently, I feel pride in one’s country has come in for some sort of liberal scrutiny, the use of the St Georges flag, the spitfire and the traditional oafish skinhead has been adopted by a right minority and is now somewhat stigmatised to show any type of pride in this bizarre yet beautiful nation of ours. This is exactly why I place such importance on my national team. It is the opportunity for me to dress up as a somewhat lightweight knight of St George, with my fellow band of brothers (equally unfit to adorn any type of amour) and swing very low.
I care a great deal about the English team. Therefore I care about the standard of the premiership, the pool from which we pick our representatives at an international level and what I will hopefully argue- provide the platform for our future warriors.
I have seen endless articles this season, panicking, bemoaning our Premiership in comparison to the French league. After the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup, Mark McCall similarly spoke out about his lack of spending power in comparison to the French clubs.
My fear, is that rugby, with the looming presence of an ever increasing commercial pressure, will adopt all that is wrong with football and in particular the Premiership, with an average of only around 30% of English players, extravagant wages and a disconnection from the fans. Professionalism requires a balance, that balance has sailed off into the distance a long time ago with football, lets not let that happen with rugby.
The wage cap has positives; I believe we are seeing a resurgent England team, packed full of youngsters, due to the opportunities afforded to them by the wage cap. Instead of packing a team full of superstars clubs are investing because of necessity, in young English talent. I’ll use two (though there are more) examples to explain my case, Harlequins and Gloucester. Two teams that are playing an exciting brand of rugby that has an English motor powering it forward, now that can only be a positive thing for the future of English rugby!
I had the misfortune of watching Harlequins get thrashed by Toulon this weekend, obviously the two teams had different ambitions in the actual game, with Quins mind on the premiership title and Toulon desperate to dust out the trophy cabinet. But as I watched Johnny Wilkinson spilt the posts in half with each penalty, I couldn’t help but think… well what’s this doing for French rugby? A team full of international superstars, but very few Frenchmen. I believe the consequences of flash your cash attitude in French rugby will start to become more and more transparent with each passing year, whilst young French talent rots on the side-lines.
I’m sure that this debate will continue, and I feel like it is currently simmering ready to boil over. It is in everybody’s interest to even the playing field within our premiership, clubs need to be more transparent in their financial dealings, but the RFU also needs to hear the concerns of the wealthier clubs, as it’s essential to keep our sport investable. But I can’t help but think, in spite of the recent absence of English teams in the latter stages of the Heineken cup, the future crop of players being developed will be far more superior to that on offer from other big money leagues.