Is Toulon really the future of rugby?

If Toulon gives us a glimpse into the future of rugby, then Tank Lanning is worried, but suggests in his Sport24 column this week, that an IPL type tournament might future proof the gentleman’s game.

Have you ever seen as much big screen watching by players on the field than in Saturday’s Heineken Cup final between Toulon and Saracens at the Millennium Stadium?

Sure, you can understand players wanting to take a gander at something that saw them penalised, or joining the ref in taking in what the TMO has been asked to look at, and even the replay of tries as they make their way back to the half way line …

But this constant quick check of the big screen, and then adjusting of the hair if they do see their pretty little faces lit up for the world to see, is a horrible habit that is creeping into the game.

In response to a Tweet about it during the game, ex Bok flank Rob Louw, who adds exceptional value on Twitter, asked if the players perhaps had a beauty salon in the changing room at half time?

Yes it might seem extremely trivial, but as a coach, how would you feel if your props and locks were more concerned with how they look on the big screen than planning the right shoulder you need from a scrum in order to work a move from the base that will exploit the space on the blind side?

It would drive me mental!

Throw in Bryan Habana’s dive to milk a penalty that should have seen him get an Oscar with his medal after the game, and are we not seeing a truly terrifying move towards … swoon … soccer!

People say that the soccer model, where club leads country because that is where the money is, is the only option in the professional era. And that Toulon, who no longer contribute to the French national side given the plethora of mercenaries lured by Monopoly money, are merely providing an early insight into the future of rugby.

Perhaps so. And as a South African it was quite fun to see a host of our players mixing it up in a Baa Baa type environment. But to me, it also seemed slightly vulgar and uncouth.

Rugby is different to soccer in so many ways, but primarily in that the player power lies not in Europe, but in the Southern Hemisphere, and that in it’s current guise, the national sides come ahead of the club sides.

Surely we are thus still in a position to actually make the call NOT to follow the path chosen by (or inflicted upon) the round ball game?

It would need a ballsy call, though. On the one hand it is good to see French businessman and current Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal’s money in the game, but he would certainly not have made Toulon his plaything had there been restrictions as to how many international legends he could lure to the club.

Will bowing to the power of money force rugby to follow in soccer’s footsteps?

Perhaps cricket are getting it right? It does not come more vulgar or uncouth than the IPL, yet despite the corruption that comes with the obscene amounts of money thrown about in that tournament, it seems to have found it’s place in the cricket landscape.

How about space being made in the rugby calendar for an IPL style international club tournament that allows players to make real money (and deservedly so, I might add) but then also allows the sport to remain on it’s more traditional path?

One Comment

  1. Tank, good article. Having been involved in a Championship/then 3rd tier club in England, but having played in the early 2000’s era- the change in player behaviour and image consciousness is unbelievable. Complaints if their jersey is not tight enough, to having to over communicate and spoon feed. Players in the pro era getting text messages when to take their next vitamin tablet. Gavin Henson led the way on the image side, but many are following. With the growth of the game, values are not being passed down by minis/juniors coaches (the dads) with many Dads actually being football converts, don’t have a clue as they know no better. It’s a worry. Onto the professional make up of teams, again my concern is more with sevens- where most of the fans are not true rugby supporters, but party goers. Values and tradition dilution. The IRB say their are growing the game in emerging nations- they really only growing sevens. This is where I see an IPL type tournament to have more value. Unfortunately with rugby being big business now, the club scene will, I believe, keep moving closer towards Football. Its happening in SA’s backyard with Varsity cup. Cross transfers at schools- No real difference in my opinion. I just wish the one thing that was un touched was Internationals- where you play for your own Country, and not adopted nations. Applied to coaches also!

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