What are the actual benefits of Pro rugby?

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What are the actual benefits of Pro rugby? Empty What are the actual benefits of Pro rugby?

Post by madmaccas on Sun Dec 29, 2013 4:15 pm

Barely a day goes by without another news story, press release or statement of intent regarding the future of rugby in Europe. First it was Club vs Country, then PRL/LNR vs ERC, then the FFR/Unions vs the PRL, now the WRU vs the Regions/RPL.

These battles have been brewing since 1995 but have been staved off thanks to compromise, co-dependence and fierce negotiation. It would seem that these have only been temporary measures that have simply held back the tide. Across the Pro rugby countries of the Northern Hemisphere we have different systems of governance and league structure, all imperfect in their own way, and we seem to be reaching a point where all out civil war is a highly likely outcome.

All of which begs the question, what actually are the benefits of professional rugby to us the punters?

Having spent my formative rugby years in the pro era I've never questioned it being the way forward, progress is progress and 'surely big spangley leagues with cheerleaders and pyrotechnics are the way forward!' I've always groaned when old boys have whined about rugby being better in their day and harbingers of doom prophesying the end of the game thanks to the devil that is pro rugby.

Now I've no doubt that whatever happens in the coming months/years rugby will continue in some shape or form and these things will eventually (given years or decades) find some solution to the present problems....but to what end?

What has pro rugby given us?


1) Is the game better to watch?

Not sure about that, depends how you measure it. With pro rugby comes intense training and near impenetrable defences and more similar physiques across the positions. Scrums have also been a shambles for the past decade. You watch some of the games from the 70's and the 80's and they're just as entertaining, if not more so depending on your tastes.

2) A better product.

In some ways yes. The Aviva, Top12 and Heineken Cup have been well packaged and deliver a more consistent product than before 1995, however most would say professionalism has damaged rugby in Scotland, Wales and the FIRA nations (just look at club attendances).

3) Better access to the sport/games.

Of this there is no doubt, far more people have had access to rugby than before. Part of that is technological but the majority is down to the exposure given by pro TV deals that simply didn't exist before. It's in the interests of SKY/ESPN/BT to have a neatly packaged product and then offer it up. Before hand you'd get the odd John Player/Pilkington Cup game on TV, or a West of Scotland vs the All Blacks, but for the most part only internationals were televised.

4) Better match-ups.

Again depends how you look at it but there are certainly more games being played. Now whether that's a good thing or not is debatable. Derby games have become far less important or anticipated by fans - in large part due to the marginalising of clubs in favour of provinces/regions in the Celtic nations, and the frequency of meetings in the Aviva/Top14. Pro rugby has also affected the international game creating far more meetings. Hosting the Wallabies or Springboks is no longer a special event but rather an annual, or even bi-annual mainstay. We also miss out on long tours due to a congested season meaning gems like the All Blacks vs Neath are a thing of the past.

5) The effect on rugby participation.

Rugby has always been a players game. In contrast with some other sports most of the supporters play or have played the sport. If we look at a polished pro sport like American Football you can see that most fans never played beyond highschool level - the game becomes top heavy. In rugby it's very rare now to hear about a player progressing to international level who wasn't spotted as a young teen and who didn't progress through an academy. As such it could be argued that the sport it becoming inaccessible to large portions of the population. You only need to look at decline of some old clubs to see the effect. Across the nations clubs that used to put out 6 teams are now only able to field 2-3.

6) The players themselves.

This is the hardest question of all. Medical standards have certainly improved, but when you consider the physical and mental stresses these young men are now under they ruddy well should! They're making money out of it, a key cause of the original rugby schism, but for every player on 500k there are fifty more on 30k. Most of the guys don't have a fall back plan and can find themselves retired at 28 with no qualifications and no prospects (they can't all be pundits!). At least before they could combine a career with the game. It also makes it into a job. There are countless posts on here where we question player's commitments and when you think about it, how can you blame them? before professionalism you dragged yourself down to wet and windy training sessions for the sheer joy and honour of playing for your club/province/country. Now that it's their job every game is the equivalent of our Monday morning commute - just another day at the office. Look at the way footballers favour their paymaster clubs over playing for their country as the future of pro rugby.



It is also true that most rugby clubs/provinces/regions still, after 18 years, aren't making any money. So some might say that professional rugby isn't even working. With the French millionaire owners now inflating player prices across the board, it's looking more and more difficult for the smaller countries to compete. So why should they even try?

With the Rabo now looking threatened there is the chance that one or more of the Celtic nations could slide back into amateur/semi pro rugby, but rather than being a disaster isn't there the chance that this could be the saviour of the game in those countries? Rugby is growing in countries like the US and they have a very healthy club game and university league but are in no hurry to create a pro league.

Now I may sound like I'm against pro rugby but I'm sure my opinion will swing back tomorrow. I'm just intrigued as to what everyone else thinks? Personally I'm very sorry that I never got to see the big Scottish club derbies or the All Blacks taking on Northern England. I also miss an open cup competition that involves all leagues (now made dangerous by the physical mismatches).

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Post by Shifty on Sun Dec 29, 2013 4:27 pm

I am pretty sick of it to be honest and fans do seem to be turning their backs on the club game in Wales.

I never thought I'd see a Grand Slam in my life time I was in tears in 2005 and so was half of the people in Wales. I have now seen 3, frankly if the game was still amateur Wales wouldn't of had those and I doubt Ireland would of had theirs either. Most of Wales best players would of gone to rugby league.

There is much more skill and flair in the game now and the basic skills are far higher. You only have to look at games in the early 90's to see how poor the quality was most of the time.
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Post by Peter Seabiscuit Wheeler on Sun Dec 29, 2013 4:29 pm

We no longer have to pretend the players aren't being payed.

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Post by madmaccas on Sun Dec 29, 2013 4:36 pm

Shifty wrote:I am pretty sick of it to be honest and fans do seem to be turning their backs on the club game in Wales.  

I never thought I'd see a Grand Slam in my life time I was in tears in 2005 and so was half of the people in Wales.  I have now seen 3, frankly if the game was still amateur Wales wouldn't of had those and I doubt Ireland would of had theirs either.  Most of Wales best players would of gone to rugby league.

There is much more skill and flair in the game now and the basic skills are far higher.  You only have to look at games in the early 90's to see how poor the quality was most of the time.  

Hmm but Wales got loads of Grand Slams in the 70's. Why would pro rugby change that? Players went over to league then and yet they still dominated.

Not sure about the skill bit. You certainly see a lot less sidesteps, jinking runs and the like - many say that's because it's coached out of them ("run straight" etc). Do you think today's lot are better than JPR, Gareth Edwards etc? I would agree that the defensive skills have improved immeasurable. Does that make for a better spectacle? I personally don't think so. The Fijians are incredible skillful yet most of their players are totally amateur.

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Post by Scrumpy on Sun Dec 29, 2013 5:31 pm

The banter amongst fans was better in the amateur days, too many fans take themselves too seriously these days.

I guess that is the price for having money in the game. What are the actual benefits of Pro rugby? 767733566
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Post by LeinsterFan4life on Sun Dec 29, 2013 5:35 pm

The less money in the game the better imo. The French are the biggest threat to Europeam rugby currently and with this new tv deal they are only getting richer.

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Post by Rugby Fan on Sun Dec 29, 2013 5:46 pm

There's always been money in the game, it's just that the unions kept most of it and treated players like serfs.

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Post by madmaccas on Sun Dec 29, 2013 5:53 pm

Rugby Fan wrote:There's always been money in the game, it's just that the unions kept most of it and treated players like serfs.

Money makes up a small fraction of the questions and points I made. What I asked was "What has pro rugby given us?" the punters?

Put the players and the unions aside. Ultimately they are just there to serve us, the rugby public. If we stopped watching they would cease to be (especially under the pro game). So are we more entertained under the pro game? And is professionalism to the benefit of the game as a whole?

If the answers to those questions is no then we are in trouble.

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Post by doctor_grey on Sun Dec 29, 2013 5:55 pm

LeinsterFan4life wrote:The less money in the game the better imo. The French are the biggest threat to Europeam rugby currently and with this new tv deal they are only getting richer.
Its not about too much money. Its about having a sustainable business model. The French model is not sustainable and destabilises Rugby across the world.

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Post by madmaccas on Sun Dec 29, 2013 6:04 pm

doctor_grey wrote:
LeinsterFan4life wrote:The less money in the game the better imo. The French are the biggest threat to Europeam rugby currently and with this new tv deal they are only getting richer.
Its not about too much money.  Its about having a sustainable business model.  The French model is not sustainable and destabilises Rugby across the world.

I agree, but to be fair name one model that is? The only truly sustainable model would be one that was wholly funded through club ticket sales and merchandise. I can't think of any club/region/province who doesn't receive some proportion of funding of central body. That union funding comes predominately from international ticket sales.

Whether they're reliant on a sugar daddy or a union makes no difference, none of them are viable independent businesses. What independent non-rugby loving businessman would invest in a rugby club in order to get a return? They'd be mad.

So not only is professionalism causing all the issues I've mentioned, it's not even working as a business model. So what's the point?

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Post by Guest on Sun Dec 29, 2013 6:44 pm

Scrumpy wrote:The banter amongst fans was better in the amateur days, too many fans take themselves too seriously these days.

I guess that is the price for having money in the game. What are the actual benefits of Pro rugby? 767733566

Or your humour is now dated?

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Post by stevetynant on Sun Dec 29, 2013 7:05 pm

I think at least professional rugby has equalised international rugby to a degree. In the eighties how many sides could stay with the all blacks after 60 minutes. The international sides are pretty much equally gym fit and professional so the only difference should be teamwork, tactics and of course the odd exceptional dan carter or his ilk. That's the theory of course the down side is the growing gap between the truly professional nations and those with less wealth to be invested.

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Post by Feckless Rogue on Sun Dec 29, 2013 7:20 pm

The quality of Irish rugby has improved in the pro era and it's popularity has increased beyond just people who play it.

But on the other hand it's gotten worse in Scotland.
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Post by madmaccas on Sun Dec 29, 2013 7:35 pm

stevetynant wrote:I think at least professional rugby has equalised international rugby to a degree. In the eighties how many sides could stay with the all blacks after 60 minutes. The international sides are pretty much equally gym fit and professional so the only difference should be teamwork, tactics and of course the odd exceptional dan carter or his ilk. That's the theory of course the down side is the growing gap between the truly professional nations and those with less wealth to be invested.

Interestingly just checked out Ireland and Scotland's results against the All Blacks in the 30 years prior to professionalism and they tell the opposite story. The scores were much closer. Their biggest losses to New Zealand came after professionalism. If fact Scotland managed a draw with the All Blacks in 1983, couldn't dream of doing that now!

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Post by Biltong on Sun Dec 29, 2013 7:36 pm

There is one big negative I see in Pro rugby.

Because of the broadcasting of Rugby throughout the world and the easy access to these matches on TV it is no longer necessary to watch at the ground.

You have better insight into the game being at home without the trouble of actually having to travel to a game, pay a bunch of money and fighting qeues to the bathroom or counter top for a beer.

It is only on very special occasions that I now take the trouble to go to a game. I assume many other feel the same way.

But in my opinion everything else is positive.

Rugby is definitely more competitive and more action packed than ever before. You can no longer just rely n natural fitness and talent to be successful in the game, but you have to be a super athlete.

Sure there are more injuries now as the impact on the body is harder due to players being bigger and stronger than ever before.

But it the physical battle that endears me to rugby, the harder the hits, the tougher the players the more ai enjoy rugby.

But you can ascribe these injuries to too much rugby.

What I don't get is that people complain about too much test rugby when it is their club teams who at times can play the same teams two three or up to four times in the season. How is it that test rugby gets criticised?
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Post by Shifty on Sun Dec 29, 2013 8:48 pm

madmaccas wrote:Hmm but Wales got loads of Grand Slams in the 70's. Why would pro rugby change that? Players went over to league then and yet they still dominated.

Not sure about the skill bit. You certainly see a lot less sidesteps, jinking runs and the like - many say that's because it's coached out of them ("run straight" etc). Do you think today's lot are better than JPR, Gareth Edwards etc?  I would agree that the defensive skills have improved immeasurable. Does that make for a better spectacle? I personally don't think so. The Fijians are incredible skillful yet most of their players are totally amateur.

Not in the sheer numbers. Pretty much an entire squad left between the late 80's and early 90's. Wales does not produce a lot of depth, especially in the forwards.

Besides I said in my lifetime I was born in 1979 so I missed the golden era, I was born just after it so I remember the failures of the 90's.
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Post by Rugby Fan on Sun Dec 29, 2013 10:16 pm

Rugby didn't go professional in 1995. It was a lucrative, hypocritically professional sport well before that date. It didn't transform from Corinthian ideal to servant of Mammon overnight.

Barry John probably just needed a break from rugby. He has said he would have returned from retirement if he could. Of course, he was banned for the crime of taking money for a newspaper column. Banned by the same people who were shoving cash into players boots, organizing boozy dinners for themselves during international weekends, and thinking up more ways to get companies to pay to be associated with the game.

Players who went to League, accepted speaking fees or wrote books weren't just lost to union during matchday. They were also banned for life from coaching or helping out at their local clubs. Meanwhile, New Zealand was fixing up All Blacks with sham jobs and no-one blinked an eye at a professional international Romanian team.

By 1995, players had had their fill. In the world of sports, football had been paying ever-increasing sums for some years. Rugby League offered careers to players with similar skill sets, and cricket had undergone a revolution in pay and sponsorship. The Olympics had been accepting professional athletes since Seoul and the World Cup and Lions tours were being sold by the game's administrators as leading global events.

If rugby hadn't already been rolling in money, players might not have wanted compensation but its profile makes that unlikely. Once you accept that the game was already professional, all 1995 does is to legitimize outstanding under-the-table deals while finally allowing players to get a fair share of the spoils. It also means you need to draw the timeline of "what went wrong" further back than that year.

The major problem for rugby is that the sports administrators only ever thought about the game being professional at the international level. Not too surprising really, given that had been their key source of lucre before players had the temerity to revolt against indentured servitude.

No-one had given much thought to what professionalism would look like below test level. It was not professionalism per se which led to the subsequent free-for-all. It was the inability of the bigwigs to think through much earlier how a game with growing revenue streams ought to be structured.

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Post by doddieman on Mon Dec 30, 2013 12:07 am

Its not that professionalism in rugby hasn't worked but the structure that has been set up to compete in.

There is too much rugby and given the physical demands of the sport it means players can't play in all games they may be desired for. So we're often watching an inferior game due to rotation and resting or international release of players.

Capitalism in sport doesn't work! Rich clubs buy the best players, win competitions, more sponsorship, get richer and get even better creating a pyramid with just a few teams continuously at the top. Sport is best when teams are of a similar standard, either side could win.

Professionalism is still new in rugby, it's not too late to rip up the structure and start again. It needs to follow a structure more like the NFL with a shorter club season where every game the best team is sent out to represent the club(region/province). Clubs need to be levelled out in terms of squad sizes, salary caps which can be matched by all. A shorter season would reduce issues of union v club, club v country as it would permit a proper international season (and the tab for those players could be picked up by the union).

Rugby can't follow football, there's not enough players at the elite level and those players can't play enough games to meet the seasons demands and there's not enough supporters either.

Whatever happens I'm getting sick of the bickering and equally sick of meaningless matches either through massive disparity in the teams or through teams missing the players that make them the team they should be. As a fan I often feel cheated. Maybe it's just being a welsh rugby fan being fed up of the regional thing though?

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Post by The Saint on Mon Dec 30, 2013 12:17 am

Scrumpy wrote:The banter amongst fans was better in the amateur days, too many fans take themselves too seriously these days.

I guess that is the price for having money in the game. What are the actual benefits of Pro rugby? 767733566

If you at any point disliked the pounds and euros being pumped into the game you would have never been going down on Bruce Craig as often as you did.

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Post by Poorfour on Mon Dec 30, 2013 12:52 am

Professional rugby is still, in reality, in its infancy. OK, so it's been officially open for 20 years, but we are still only a short way along the route to viability. Madmaccas is right about a lot of things, but the most important is that the game is changing from a participatory one (i.e. where most of the supporters also play or played or coach in some capacity) to one where the support base is much larger than the fan base. Most clubs have a way to go to build a big enough fanbase to sustain them.

Do we have an alternative? Not really. The professionalisation of training and game play means that there will always be an incentive to pay players to train full time. When the game was still "amateur", that was done in unofficial ways and an advantage accrued to those teams and nations who found better ways around the rules or had benefactors able to create sinecures for their players. At least making it a professional game allows payments to be policed to some degree and also enables rules that encourage competitiveness, like the salary cap.

People who study team dynamics will tell you that a team goes through cycles of behaviour, sometimes known as forming, storming, norming and performing. I think the same kind of cycle applies to sports in the early years of professionalism, over longer periods as it can take several years for each change to play out. English club rugby and the RFU did a lot of storming in the late 90s, managed to perform in the erly 2000s, have been through another stormy period and are now norming (at England level) and performing (at AP level - this season looks like it could be the closest ever, at least from 2-11 in the table). Wales and France are at the start of a new cycle, Ireland will probably be thrown into one by player drain before too long. How stable things are for Scotland and Italy is probably outside their own control and depends what happens elsewhere.

At a European level, we've been through a couple of cycles and thingsare now about as stormy as they get. I hope that all the sides eventually get to a point where they realise that everyone ultimately needs a 6 nation competition and agree a new set of norms, but there are some very entrenched positions that need to change before that can happen.
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Post by Peter Seabiscuit Wheeler on Mon Dec 30, 2013 3:33 pm

madmaccas wrote:
stevetynant wrote:I think at least professional rugby has equalised international rugby to a degree. In the eighties how many sides could stay with the all blacks after 60 minutes. The international sides are pretty much equally gym fit and professional so the only difference should be teamwork, tactics and of course the odd exceptional dan carter or his ilk. That's the theory of course the down side is the growing gap between the truly professional nations and those with less wealth to be invested.

Interestingly just checked out Ireland and Scotland's results against the All Blacks in the 30 years prior to professionalism and they tell the opposite story. The scores were much closer. Their biggest losses to New Zealand came after professionalism. If fact Scotland managed a draw with the All Blacks in 1983, couldn't dream of doing that now!

The change in score differentials actually highlights a positive change and busts another myth of the "golden ametuer age"
Teams score more tries now, or at least good ones do. The rules also have a commercial driving force to take on the port and dinner jacket brigades obstinate refusal to believe the game needs to regulate the use of lying in a big pile in the mud as a legitimate playing tactic. Fan and TV audience appeal matters more so we are seeing rules tweaked to try and keep the game moving and promote attacking play ( of course theres been some notable missteps like the ELVs) and reduce foul play and thuggery.
We still get shown the same 5 minutes of interesting footage from the 70s proving that a couple of welsh blokes could run from side to side whilst a load of drunks stood by and watched them but that really is a smoke screen for the reality of most rugby games. Boring attritional and slow. The speed and flatness of passing in the modern game is way beyond the game of 40 years ago, the ball handling skills of even front row forwards have improved dramatically and the number of tries increased despite massive improvements in tackling and defensive organisation.


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