It is always with apprehension these days that I check the weekend's rugby results when I wake up on Monday mornings.
The first two I look for are Wasps and the Falcons and too often recentIy I have been disappointed by what I have read. Both clubs have been in decline for a while with Newcastle being perrenial strugglers whereas Wasps have fallen sharply from the pinnacle of being English champions only three years ago.
The problem, I believe, is down to investment - or lack of it. Ironically, last season, Newcastle were saved by one of their bigger investments over the past few seasons - the boot of Jimmy Gopperth. A lack of creativeness has seen crowds fall and in a part of the world where supporters expect to be entertained as well as watch a winning team, they have come up short. Wasps have also seen attendances tumble as they have failed to live up to the standard of recent successful years.
Haves and have-nots
Owning a rugby club has always been a rich man's hobby rather than a solid investment. The league table at the end of the 2010/2011 season was almost a direct reflection of the money being pumped into clubs.
There were a few exceptions but more often than not, it has become the haves against the have nots.
With the current financial crisis, more teams are looking in the lower leagues to try and unearth hidden gems. Squads are shrinking at a time when the game has reached previously unseen levels of physicality and increasingly clubs are turning to their academy systems to plug the gaps. Yes, it is important for the development of the game and the health of the national team to be giving these youngsters a chance but more often than not, they are being thrown in at the deep end. It is possible to do this successfully when the team is winning but put too many players in too soon and the team finds it hard to compete consistently - just ask Newcastle and Wasps!
Newcastle have tried to arrest the slide with one last roll of the dice. The timing of it has given them a few weeks for the new coaches to come in and try things hoping to have an impact before the resumption of the league programme.
Wasps on the other hand, will be hoping the break from the league gives a few of their wounded the chance to return to action and, in the meantime, will hope to secure a couple of morale boosting wins.
Come 5 May both sets of coaches, players and fans (and me) will be hoping they have done enough to survive and will then set their sights on persuading the owner to invest again.
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Ieuan Johns says...
The problem is that there is no genuine workable model for Rugby Union in the Northern Hemisphere. The club game spreads talent too thinly (or more likely too inconsistently) without some form of cap. The regional game increases quality and depth as it has done for Wales but has created a vacuum of fan interest that is seeing more and more kids not engage with the sport. It has also lead to financial problems only now becoming widely known. Regularly Swansea City get more fans for one game than all four regions muster between them on a weekend. The French model is fine for a while but will implode within 10 years if the investors don't keep churning in. The only model that works in the Southern Hemisphere one and that is because it is all-encompassing. Without Europe wide control over player caps and the like there will always be descepancies in the Henekin Cup between teams and this is the real measure for most teams in it.
Posted 15:26 29th February 2012
Ken Dunne says...
the other side of the money concern is that the wage cap, meant to keep the premiership competetive is making our senior team's uncompetetive in europe , levelling one playing field to put all the spoil on another does not work, it has been stated that an england team will never win in europe again while the cap is in place , [please prove me wrong sarries] the conspiracy theorist's amongst us think that the RFU remain wedded to the regional squad example, i think the club's would have to push the european super league to counter that or even a world club league, i was reminded about the venom that the welsh club supporters had against the regional system when my welsh brother in law neath born & bred [never going to watch them] crowed over the ospreys performance recently, just like the welsh sides of a decade ago is the rfu money spread too thinly , how long before say the 4 clubs that are supplying most of the players to the 2 squads demand shared reward?? but why break what work's lift the cap [apart from linking income and expenditure] let the club's form a nominal league within a league the top half dozen would alway's be competitive and the relagation fight keep the others honest , and we may see the european glory day's return. the other format's all offer some hope the marqee player would put all the eggs in one basket , i like the proposal that england players wages do not count in the salary cap of the club that produced them, there are others but we must do something/anything before the situation becomes dire.
Posted 20:04 18th January 2012
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