Rugby dragged down by the lifeless colour of money
The reason rugby internationals came to be called “Tests” is precisely because that is what they were. They were tests of strength. Neighbours would gear up and go and test themselves against another distant band at the game they both loved and enjoyed.
Saturday sees the continuation of the bland road-show that Test rugby threatens to permanently become.
It is a shiny parade devoid of glamour, prestige or even much fun.
South Africa host a third-string English side in Pretoria; the All Blacks host a virtually nameless French side in Auckland; Ireland and Argentina battle it out again with a flurry of their big-time European players missing; while Australia will be hoping desperately that they don’t embarrass themselves against a Welsh side missing 18 frontline players.
After the Australian press mocked the Welsh tourists upon arrival, the declining Wallabies only just managed to scrape together a win last weekend.
This weekend’s rugby is, however, lacking in any real significance.
Test rugby has emptied itself of glory and fun so that it may fill its coffers with money. The thrill of your country’s best playing against mine is just not there in Saturday’s scheduling.
The players who run out on to the field wearing colourful jerseys, vibrantly representing the countries from which they hail, must know that the matches in which they play matter little—they are exercises in career extensions and the paying out of money garnered by the selling of broadcasting rights. It is this money that will grease this dull machine for yet another season.
One can hardly call these rugby matches “Tests”. Charades is a more fitting term.
This year is World Cup year, and that means that in this particular year, rugby fans are expected to pay R300 to go and watch glorified trial games after which the losing coach and captain will excuse their side’s poor performance by claiming they are building for the World Cup.
How can transformation take place in South African rugby when most of the country can’t afford a ticket and are perfectly justified in not making the effort to find somewhere to watch the game on the box?
Both England and France are preparing themselves to take on the traditional twins of rugby dominance, namely South Africa and New Zealand, who, finding themselves at the beginning of their international season, are perfectly happy to field full-strength sides.
England and France, at the end of their season, have ridiculously sub-standard line-ups.
England are missing all their players who play for the three English clubs that only last weekend were disentangled from the complexities of the cosmopolitan provincial European tournament, the Heineken Cup.
Players from London Wasps, the Leicester Tigers and Bath, players like captain Phil Vickery, Josh Lewsey, Harry Ellis, Julian White and Martin Corry, are all unavailable. Others such as Mark Cueto, Mike Tindall, Andrew Sheridan and Dan Ward-Smith are all crocked after a ridiculously long season.
South Africa could teach the rugby powers-that-be the greatest lesson by putting 80 points on an excuse for an English rugby team, the defending world champions. Perhaps that would jolt the International Rugby Board into some kind of action.
The French, meanwhile, are fielding a squad that coach Bernard Laporte admits does not contain 95% of his intended World Cup squad.
They, too, have clubs still playing in a domestic league that runs concurrent to the Heineken Cup, the Top 14, and nobody from Stade Français, Toulouse, Clermont Auvergne and Biarritz is able to make the journey across international waters.
Manager Jo Maso has admitted the tour is one the French could do without. Which begs the obvious question: Why plan the tour in the first place?
And thus we are brought back to that stubborn medium of choice and power that so dominates all too much in our scarred world—money.
The more matches that are played, the longer the window for television viewing becomes and the amounts that the unions can sell off the broadcasting rights to moguls such as Rupert Murdoch increases.
And because of that we are robbed of a French tour that could have included players such as Pieter de Villiers, Christophe Dominici and Fabien Pelous—the players who make up the second-best team in the world—going head to head against All Black dynamos such as Isaia Toeava, Richie McCaw and Joe Rokocoko.
Debates over how the Springboks should best represent their country threaten to become academic. The question of should Luke Watson be in a green and gold jumper fades away when sport becomes business, and jerseys become brand symbols.
The colourful jerseys we will see on Saturday may soon no longer represent living people, but rather the neutral and lifeless colour of money.
Chris Waldburger is a writer for Rugby365.com