There is life beyond World Cup

Keo. in his Business Day column, writes that the game of rugby is stronger than a six week World Cup competition and it is ludicrous that leading players should be wrapped in cotton wool and withdrawn from the domestic scene in order to try and win the damn competition.

No coach can plan to win the World Cup. A coach can plan to get to the play-offs, but once in the semi-finals it becomes a lottery. A poor 20 minutes, as New Zealand discovered in 1999, is all it takes for an empire to crumble in the play-offs.

Too much emphasis is being placed on the World Cup and too many other competitions suffer unnecessarily because of it. The World Cup is not the cash cow that feeds rugby in South Africa, New Zealand, England and the like. It is the all-year round fare that pays the salaries of players and brings in the revenue.

In South Africa the leading Springboks won’t play in the Currie Cup for the next two seasons and there is a proposal to use them sparingly in next year’s Super 14. New Zealand, whose obsession with the World Cup is even greater than South Africa’s, has withdrawn players from the domestic NPC and also wants most of the World Cup squad protected from the demands of the 2007 Super 14.

It is madness.

Here’s an option. Why not can the Super 14 and Tri Nations next year. Why not can all rugby between now and the 2007 World Cup. That way no coach can have an excuse about injuries or player fatigue. That way there won’t be a squabble about player payments because there won’t be any money to pay them.

How rugby’s prominent investors can stand by and allow national coaches to pick and choose when their stars play is beyond comprehension. Imagine if the likes of England, France, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Holland and Italy’s national coaches had asked to withdraw all their national squad players from all club competition a year ago to prepare for the World Cup? It would never have been entertained because soccer is professional, whereas rugby still tries to marry amateur romanticism with corporate commitment.

Soccer sees the World Cup as part of the calendar. It does not represent THE calendar.

Thierry Henry and Steven Gerrard, to name but two, have played close to 50 matches this season. But they go to soccer’s World Cup as two of the most influential players when assessing France and England’s prospects. It is the nature of the profession.

And that is what rugby after 11 years of legalized player payment still can’t come to terms with. It is no longer a sport where you pick and choose what suits you and do it for the love of the game. It is a job that comes with responsibility to those who pay the bills.