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To tour or not to tour?

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John Beattie | 12:49 UK time, Monday, 24 May 2010

I don't understand tours undertaken by countries any more.

England are going to Australia and New Zealand. Ah, the beauty of being beaten up there after a long season. Ireland are touring Australia and New Zealand too, Wales play South Africa at home and also go to New Zealand, while Scotland are off to Argentina.

As an accountant (yup, passed the exams as a Chartered Accountant and loved the job), my instinct tells me that this is really to do with money.

It allows rugby unions to profit by filling their stadia outside the usual Six or Tri Nations window.

We head for the southern hemisphere so that New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia come and play us in November. We all make money.

Add to all of this a World Cup, British and Irish Lions tours, and the explosion of sevens into an Olympic sport, and I would argue that there is simply too much rugby for players to cope with.

bokswales595.jpgThe IRB want to bring back the longer tour, the tour with midweek games.

It takes me back to my young days of trekking around New Zealand and South Africa on Lions tours, turning up at pitches with crowds packed around them, the smell of burnt pig wafting across the pitch carried on a light breeze direct from myriad barbecues. Everyone hated you. But it was paradise.

In the era before I played, men left Wales, Ireland, Scotland or England on boat and didn't come back for six months. Some never came back.

But times have changed. As some of you replying to this blog over the weeks have shown, the Heineken Cup and the Premiership are big events. If the ash cloud plays ball travel is more straightforward.

There isn't a battle to see whether a country or a Heineken Cup team, Scotland or Toulouse for example, is a bigger proposition, but you can national coaches wanting to tour their teams and examine combinations for future events when, actually, there might not be a pressing need for it.

I am writing this because I am just back from the Mull Sevens. A host of young blokes and women camped out under the stars, some slept on boats, and they played sevens for a weekend.

I understand that tour. I understand World Cups and I love the Lions.

But summer tours? I need that concept explained to me nowadays.


  • Comment number 1.

    Money makes the world go round.......

    Would really like to see how many games a pro rugby player gets through these days and with todays' heightened physicality add another 10 games on over the bygone amateur era. How much does a player get paid for a tour these days? Does that come into it?

  • Comment number 2.

    I think it is primarily about money but also an admission by the home unions that the northern hemisphere game (with the exception of the French) needs to catch up with their southern counterparts.
    The 6 Nations this year was the dullest it's been for years yet the Super 14 competition has been enthralling - especially with the emergence of the very young Queensland Reds team (is the Genia/Cooper partnership the best 9/10 pair in club rugby...?!) - and I expect the Tri-Nations to carry on in this style. And with the impending introduction of Argentina into this competition, southern hemisphere rugby is going to get even stronger.

  • Comment number 3.

    Ken, this is from the BBC's website: "It is understood the original deal proposed giving players turning out in England's Test 22 against the Wallabies additional match fees of £5,000 per Test - plus a possible £1,500 win bonus - on top of the basic £7,800 tour payment." So it looks as though an England player who made two test squads and didn't win a test would get £27,800 under the original deal.

  • Comment number 4.

    So let's say the professional rugby players life span is 10 years maximum, and say he plays on 5 around £147k for just getting into the final team. Plus all the extras that some will make from non rugby related income.....mmmmmm......bit of an easy one this.

    Or put it another way - if someone came up to me and said we'll pay you £28k to spend 2 months away (how long is the tour?) in a nice country doing something you like doing as well as your basic salary that you are earning now what would I say? I might, just might, turn out for England for that sort of dosh up front. Well, maybe not.

  • Comment number 5.

    The problem with the tours is that they are boring and repetitive. I don’t really care if England loose to Australia and New Zealand over the summer because I know that in four months time they will play each other again so there is no lasting value in a win. This is why the Lions tours are so popular – the rarity of the matches.

    On the money front I am not convinced that it is not possible to make more money from fewer tests that are of more meaning. If for example England played NZ every four years the hype and rarity of the game would mean that they could get higher advertising revenue and ticket prices. At the moment rugby is the same as cricket with both sports needing to realise that less is more.

    p.s. if the international players have half as much fun on their tours as the guys have at Mull then there is no need for money I’m sure they’d all go for free.

  • Comment number 6.

    John: I agree with the basic premise that there is too much being asked of our top players. They cannot be expected to perform at a high level in all of the games scheduled for them.

    When discussing this subject with my rugby buddies, the discussion always seems to get down to exactly how many games in a calendar year can a pro-rugby player be expected to play while retaining some semblance of top form? My answer is 22 games per year. Most of my friends feel that this is too low and should be around 28. However, I hold to my prediction that eventually (after I don't know how many years, and how many meetings between unions and player associations), the number will be 22.

    There is also a fan/spectator aspect to this; we should not be expected to pay for expensive tickets while players are not performing up to their expected level (witness Hogg at the Twickenham Sevens this weekend).

  • Comment number 7.

    Is the problem of the amount of games not mostly a problem for France and England? Other countries have more control over the national team players and the clubs they play for, and are able to give players more rest. The English players on the Lions tour basically played non-stop, whilst Irish players were allowed time to rest and recover. Providing the tours are done sensibly it will be great for the game; instead of playing all the countries in the Southern Hemisphere, you tour one every year. By not playing the same teams each year, fans will be more excited when their team play in NZ or South Africa for the first time in 3 years.

  • Comment number 8.

    Would you feel differently if those tours took in the likes of the Pacific Islands or South America? I would. There have been far too many "grand slam" tours recently - the same small clique of countries playing each other, quite literally ad nauseum.
    At least the English tour has five games, including mid-week, which is a small throwback to prior eras.
    I don't think there is too much rugby in andof itself, especially if clubs are judicious in terms of the squads they committ to individual "lesser" tournaments, but a bit more variety would make for a better spectacle, if less income.

  • Comment number 9.

    Re the money statement......and just to prove a point. Was really seriously considering going to NZ to see the World Cup in 2011 and was going for a couple of Scotlands pool games. Scotland against Georgia £45 and then Argentina £73 and then England £172........what the !!! OK these are the best seats in the house but I wouldn't pay £45 to see Scotland play Georgia in the field outside my hoose and I'm not gonna say anything about paying £172 to see Scotland beating England.

    Rugby down under is a different ball game in a lot of ways. Mmmm...fancy a punt (even though I'm not a betting man) on Scotland beating England at that game.

  • Comment number 10.

    must admit when you were playing, the tour meant something. You only saw the All Blacks for example once every 3 or 4 years and there was that special occasion when they played. They were known by the name of the captain - Mourie's All Blacks. They had identity.
    Now it's home and away every year and then I'm supposed to raise my expectations for the World Cup as well.
    It's all same old same old and the Accountants and Marketing men count the pennies and plot the next game.

    My big beef about all this fleecing of the rugby fan is that it makes rugby an isolationist game. There are stacks of countries wanting to break through and the IRB and big 7 ignore them. Let's face it, Argentina had to come 3rd in the WC before the IRB actually grudgingly gave them a decent competition to play inbetween cups - even then it took 4 years. New Zealand help the Islanders by poaching their top talent (oops..sorry) and so on.

    Why can't RUGBY talk? Why can't teams touring Argentina for example, play a warm-up in Uruguay or Chile? Why don't we give these other guys a chance? because we are scared in ten years time we'll be beaten by them, I suppose. That and the money

    Oh, nice swipe at the Ospreys in there again, can't let that one lie down can you? but then that's the Celtic federation's fault for not understanding the concept of video conference.

  • Comment number 11.

    John, I also agree with you. There's too much rugby being played by players. Money men again...(possibly due to paying over inflated salaries of the over-worked aforementioned)

  • Comment number 12.

    I think a combination of the size of players and the type of game that is played (ie running into someone rather than into space) is reducing the numbe of games players can play and it does get boring playing the same teams every year...It should work out something like this I think based on RWC cycles...

    2011 RWC...
    2012 - Summer Tour to SH....Eng to SA, Ire to Arg, Wales to Aus, Scot & Italy to NZ, France to Pacific Islands
    2012 Winter Tour to NH...SA to Ire, Arg to Wales, Aus to Sco/Italy, NZ to France, Pacific Island to Eng
    2013 Lions Tour to Aus...France to SA, Italy/Arg/Pacific Islands to NZ
    2013 Winter Tour to NH....SA to Wales, Arg to Sco/Italy, Aus to France, NZ to Eng, Pacific Islands to Ire
    2014 - Summer Tour to SH...Eng to Arg, Ire to Aus, France to NZ, Sco/Italy to Pacific Islands, Wales to SA
    2014 - Winter tour to NH...SA to Sco/Italy, Arg to France, Aus to Eng, NZ to Ire, Pacific Islands to Wales
    2015 RWC

    All tours to be 3 test tours with midweek games against Provincial sides.

    France A, Saxons, Ire A, Sco A, Wales A, Russia, Uruguay, Chile, Georgia, Romania, USA, Canada to play in the Churchill Cup every year and to have round robin tournaments between them.

  • Comment number 13.

    Putting my cynical side aside for one moment, hopefully the home nations will get some benefit from playing the SANZA teams more often. Once a year at moment has not really done us any good come the World Cup (and England 2003 did play them all a lot more).

    I would complain about the logic of Wales playing a Bok team stripped of Bulls and Stormers, but as I have got readily available, reduced price tickets to take my 4 and 6 year old girls to a match for the first time, it would be hypocritical of me to do so. I just hope they cheer for the right team.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hate to be this guy, but 2 lots of £5000 and one of £7800 does not equal £27800. How long ago were those exams?
    On a more important note, the congestion of the rugby calendar will continue until someone makes a stand. What player wouldn't want to play, regardless of pay, knowing that here is an opportunity to stake a claim for a place, or prevent another from so doing. What union wouldnt wish to schedule more games, bringing in revenue, attracting fans and prospective future players alike.
    The issue is one of health. Until real, comprehensive, and globally effective legislation is introduced to manage the amount of playing time professionals experience in a season, this will continue.
    The only people who could do this are the IRB. My fear is that it will not happen until someone has been badly, perhaps permanently injured.

  • Comment number 15.

    Unfortunately, the part of the game that really brings in big money (TV, advertising and attendance) is the international scene. The administrators have long recognised this and are looking to maximise income which in theory gets redistributed a bit down the rugby chain. I can only see two possible courses of action to redress this: i) Club rugby becomes a mass spectator sport so generates income to compete; ii) the audience (spectators, TV and sponsors) get bored of these repeated nothing tours and the financial backing diminishes. I know which of these outcomes looks more likely...

  • Comment number 16.

    Agree completely.
    The lines of Abbot and Costello of, "Who's on First?" can be altered to, "Who's Up Next Week?" The purpose of this week's game is affected by who do we play next week? Money rules in the professional era. The All Blacks Munster game of a few years ago shows what taking the game outside the Internationals and the main centres can achieve.
    Burn out of players, jaded performances are major issues.

  • Comment number 17.

    re: The Mull 7's
    Obviously not enough rugby to keep you from dancing on the stage playing the air guitar!

    Mull makes sense because it is about what the players want and there's a strong feeling of camaraderie and any pressure is self-imposed. The summer tours are just a commercial exercise which is fine but they erode the excitement and anticipation of watching your country play. Simply put, familiarity breeds contempt.

  • Comment number 18.

    I see it as a bit of a conundrum. No question: the top players of all nations are in danger of being over-played. No question: jaded players don't make for intense rugby matches. Let's also acknowledge that if they weren't over-played, there would be a question of whether they are in danger of being over-paid. But that is not the main thrust of what I'd like to add to this discussion.

    One way of seeing the demanding scheduling leading to over-commitment of players over a season is that it builds into the system opportunities for new blood not only to come through, but also to be structurally essential. After all, whose fault is it that players are over-worked? Might it not be that clubs and nations are being stupid to behave as if a first string of, say, twenty-two must necessarily constitute the first choice selection for every match, rather than staffing up for a squad system in which there is regular rotation in a squad of, say, thirty, in which the full first string is saved for key matches?

    (To make the point that such a system needn't detract from the quality of games, we all no doubt remember Dawes and Moore hooking for England. Dawes was wonderful, but essentially he was seen as cover for Moore, there to "keep Moore honest" - as if that were needed! If a consequence of England playing more tests had been that Dawes got more run-ons as a result of systematic rotation, I'd not have been disappointed. One thinks of many such instances: Gregan and Whittaker for Australia, Ward and Campbell for Ireland, and so on. The thing is that rotation wasn't the norm because such parity of talent wasn't the norm. Full schedules will change that - no, MUST change that.)

    Seen another way, a light schedule will result in the twenty-two man first string appearing in every match of the season, effectively closing the shop and holding new blood out until the incumbent first string retires. I can see a very strong argument for avoiding a return to those days, not least because the retirements tended to happen in batches with dire consequences as green players trooped like lambsto the slaughter.

    I don't think that we're far from seeing a new evolution in national squads: a number of countries now quite consciously rotate squad members, and staff up with a view not to covering the first string against unwelcome contingencies, but actually being able to field players of a calibre comparable to the first stringers being "rested". It's happening a lot in the SANZAR "Super fourteen" competition and that's not even at national level, and as far as I can tell it hasn't driven crowds away.

    I agree: whereas we're getting there, we're not there yet - I suspect that South Africa will be proving the point against Wales shortly. But I submit that we'll never get there if the pressure is relieved, and I'm happy to suggest that there are national and club coaches who have taken the point on board.

    I may have erred in putting that a little more strongly than I believe it, but hopefully I shall have fuelled debate, if not reflection.

  • Comment number 19.

    I understand where you're coming from on this one John. Summer tours have long since lost their purpose in an age of rugby which sees so many other annual events being played. Rugby is being played at a higher, more intense level than ever before, so the prospect of having to play more and more matches a year is a daunting one. It's easy to see why some players regard summer tours as a nice little all-expenses-paid holiday between their respective domestic-league seasons and the autumn internationals. Half-hearted, lazy rugby is the end product. But as you said, we only go there, so they come to play us in November. Everyone makes money. No real harm done, right?


    There is a silent minority here, the real victims of this wretched cash-cow: number 8s. They are the ones who are suffering the real brunt of this shameless money-making exercise. They're too proud to admit it because they don't want to let their team down, but deep inside, international number 8s everywhere are hurting. This is because a number 8 is usually the most physical player on the field, and always the most noble. He'll frequently find himself in situations where he has to make up for a fellow team-mate's mistake or lack of skill. This can often lead to unnecessary physical and mental strain. A number 8 is a rugby team's greatest and best asset. The governing bodies of rugby need to recognise this blindingly obvious fact and grant them a little more R&R in the summer. Especially in August, which as the eighth month of the year, offers a number 8 the best possible period for recuperation.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm glad I didn't play number 8 when I played..............

    Obviously some serious head knocks involved playing there.

  • Comment number 21.

    Re the pathetic performance against the Japan Girls Under 12s, is Blair suitable material for Captain? I'm not a fan of his and make no secret of that, but Cusiter didn't seem to offer much leadership in the 6 Nations either and suggest Robinson should use the tour to identify the real leaders, who presently appear to be Barclay and Kellock.


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