Ball In Touch Special: Our rugby columnist Jeff Ball responds to the shocking details leaked from England’s failed Rugby World Cup Campaign. For further comment on this story and more follow @BallInTouch on Twitter
More money, less respect
“He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.”
Another country, another century, and yet the words of American founding father Benjamin Franklin hold just as much meaning now as the fallout from England’s Rugby World Cup campaign gets worse.
England rugby PR machine hit another iceberg with the revelation in the Times that the England squad was beset by divisions and greed with the rugby far down the list of priorities for some.
The news comes from leaked reports into the campaign in New Zealand and it is car crash reading that gives momentum and explanation to why Martin Johnson resigned last week.
The three reports, which include anonymous testimony from the players themselves, reveal the way senior players treated it as an old school tour, how Martin Johnson’s inexperience as a coach was exposed and abused and how the accumulation of wealth and caps was the main thing on the minds of some players instead of getting the rugby right.
Before they had even got on the plane there were threats to boycott the official pre-World Cup dinner until guarantees about commercial activities had been made. England Captain Lewis Moody led a group of senior players in disputing the payments that were to be received for their participation.
Martin Johnson was criticised for being too loyal to some senior figures, a statement in itself that is shocking and disappointing. With the exception of Graham Rowntree and the young guns who baulked at the behaviour of the senior ‘role models’, very few have emerged unscathed from the reports.
We mustn’t forget, unlike most of us, playing rugby is the job of these young men. Every day they go to work on a field of grass whilst the rest of us sit in our offices or warehouses. The highlight of our week as we turn out to watch on a Saturday afternoon is the culmination of a full week’s slog for them, the reason they are paid to put their bodies on the line for our entertainment.
It is for that reason I would never begrudge someone asking for a pay rise or wanting a bigger bonus. However, the money side of any job is always a delicate matter that requires timing and careful negotiation when it is to be addressed.
Sadly the England players’ timing shows either great naivety or great arrogance and disregard for those that support and follow them to the other side of the world and back. Rugby, ultimately, is for the people. It is a form of entertainment, a social gathering, a place to belong. That is why countless masses journey out every weekend in the wind and rain to watch 30 men run around a muddy field for 80 minutes, be it in a stadium of 80,000 or 80.
The England players seem to have forgotten that. Big name players draw the media and occasional fans, but most people don’t turn out to see individual players, they go to see their team. Who is playing for their team doesn’t really matter, they just want to see every man from 1 to 15 fighting for the shirt he is wearing to win the game. We would all love our team to be champions but that is unrealistic, so we settle for trying.
The way England players have approached the World Cup is disgusting. The game is professional and of course there will always now be a commercial element, but it should not be the driving force, especially at a World Cup. I can think of no greater honour than representing your country at the pinnacle event of its sport, and that is any sport, never mind the game I love.
The pride and determination to do well for my nation would be all I needed, though admittedly my chances of being paid for sporting ability are slim to none. If I was good enough then yes I would expect payment, but even if there was none on offer would you say no? I’m sure many would feel the same and it’s because of that the comments in the reports are so infuriating. How dare they represent me and my country and use it as an opportunity to benefit themselves.
No wonder anyone who should take the England job doesn’t want it. Woodward, Mallet, Henry, all have said no and slipped out the back door. Graham Henry ruled himself out saying “I already have enough problems”, wryly. Those that have put their hands up have been coaches on the wane (the two Eddies, O’Sullivan and Jones).
The exception is Jim Mallinder for whom it is a logical progression on paper at least, if not maybe in practice as the extent of the mess becomes clear. The bravery of Stuart Lancaster who seems likely to take a caretaker role grows with each new headline.
Personally I would love to know who said what. If the public can’t know I would make damn sure whoever was handed the reins has a read and has the strength of mind to exclude these players from the playing squad, regardless of talent.
Negativity and selfishness are diseases within a rugby team.
Sir Clive Woodward tested players to find out who were Energisers and who were Sappers, people that’s attitude didn’t help the team mindset. When he knew this, he set about building the team around these Energisers, with the Sappers slowly pushed to the side. That was a couple of years before 2003. The fact this story broke in the final hours of the 8th anniversary of England’s victory is a bitter irony.
With the revelations no doubt perpetuating, while we wait for the next story I will leave you with this. After the defeat to France, one player reported hearing another in the changing room afterwards comment “There’s £35,000 down the toilet.” The player reporting this comment said it made him feel sick and frankly I could not agree more.
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