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For the Good of Rugby?

With the Saracens PR machine running at full tilt we are being bombarded with the surefire knowledge that they are a team who has spent a fortune developing players to hit their potential.  Their academy and coaching team have gifted the nation a team of giants forged from the dregs of other clubs and malnourished children they found languishing in second rate village clubs.

It is also clear that Nigel Wray was simply ensuring that players got the things they deserved.  He was giving them all they needed to ensure their success once their ability to play was behind them.  If he inadvertently exceeded the salary cap then it was a genuine mistake and nothing more.

As if this wasn’t enough then it has been made utterly clear that every single club is actually doing the same things, probably worse than Sarries are, and that if they were only honest enough to admit it then this whole unpleasant episode could be put behind us.

Saracens are being unfairly made the scapegoat in order to take the focus on the actual villains in rugby.

In fact Saracens should be applauded for their willingness to take a hit in order to protect the good of the game for us all. All the mistakes were made by the lovely Mr Wray entirely by himself, the rest of the board, the coaching team, and the players knew nothing about it.

Right.

Now that’s the complete bullshit out of the way let’s actually look at some of the facts without the ridiculous spin.

Sarries created the best players in the country.

Players like Itoje, and Farrell came through the Saracens academy and they are certainly among the best we have in the country right now.  But players like Mako and Billy Vunipola most certainly did not.  Mako had 40 appearances for Bristol before signing for Sarries, and Billy had 41 for Wasps.

So some they did, some they did not.  Much the same as every other club out there.

The only difference is that unlike all of the other clubs Saracens continually retained their best players, and yet somehow also managed to hoover up the best from the other clubs.  When contracts were up for renewal, the very best potential always seemed to have the option of moving to Sarries regardless of the cost.

We also need to remember that once a team has a number of great players then developing academy players gets so much easier.

Success breed success however that success is arrived at in the first instance.

A youngster with potential is far more likely to be a success when they train in the same organisation as half the England international squad at Sarries, as opposed to turning out twice a week for Haslemere Community Rugby Club (nothing against Haslemere, I played for them, they’re awesome people and I’m proud to have worn their strip in the mud of Woolmer Hill).

So the question is not are Saracen’s developing quality players, clearly they are.  What we need to ask is how they got into the situation they are currently in where they can offer the very best to aspiring players with real potential. And then we might look at how they managed to buy the best players other clubs could not afford to keep.

Was Nigel doing this purely to help the players’ future after rugby?

No, he most certainly was not.

The fact is that his joint business ventures that somehow managed to put vast amounts of money into the pockets of players only seemed to be an option for Saracen’s players, not the wider rugby community, and even within Saracens they only materialised for the very best.  Ashton, Wigglesworth, Farrell etc.

So let’s not pretend that they were anything other than a deliberate attempt to get extra money into the pockets of the players they were most likely to lose.  The players that would ensure they were in the very best position to win yet more titles.

Saracens are being unfairly targeted

Now lets look at the idea that if Sarries are expected to open their books then all the other clubs too because everyone is at it.

To some degree I don’t disagree with this.  But that is what the Salary cap is.  A fairly simple way for all the clubs to demonstrate they aren’t cheating.

But the in-depth forensic study of the club’s accounts is a big deal. Obviously it shouldn’t be limited to just Saracens, it should absolutely be forced on every single club who has been repeatedly found guilty of breaching the cap.  Year after year, season after season.  Punishment after punishment.

If you break the cap, and you accept your punishment, and then you break the cap again in a blatant and deliberate way then you should be forced to open your books for scrutiny.

It’s just that right now Saracens are the only club who fit that criteria.

The players and coaches knew nothing about it

That is clearly a lie.

Maro Itoje was allegedly paid almost £100,000 for attending a series of events organised by the lovely Mr Wray’s daughter’s company (she also coincidentally happens to be a shareholder in Saracens). Only he didn’t actually attend any events.  And we are supposed to believe that he didn’t even notice he was being paid over three times the average national salary for doing precisely nothing?

No clearly not.

The idea that Saracens are so lovely that players would willingly give up money to be part of that club is one of the most damaging claims of the lot.  I could go on, but to be honest even thinking about it makes me angry, so I won’t.

The same logic applies to the coaching team.

Mark McCall may be one of the best coaches around, but we’ll actually never know how good he is because he had a squad that was assembled illegally to be bigger and better than any of the others.  It’s the equivalent of a cyclist winning the tour de France on a motorbike and then his coach claiming to be the best.

To suggest he never even questioned why his squad had vastly more internationals than anyone else’s is just laughable. He either knew full well, or he is a dribbling imbecile. For the record I do not think he is a dribbling imbecile.

The simple facts of the matter are that over many years Saracens have deliberately cheated the regulations they signed up to. They have repeatedly and cynically broken the rules in order to get their dishonest, cheating hands on the trophies the rest of us thought were actually fairly up for grabs.

Every single fan who has paid money to watch a game in the premiership did so under false pretences.

Every single club who has missed out on Europe, the premiership playoffs, home advantage, or the title itself did so because Saracens cheated.

Every single owner who had to pay more for players to keep them because Saracens offered them more did so because of a lie.

Every single team that was relegated and had to make staff redundant did so because Sarries were happy to lie in order to win.

Every single sponsor who paid good money to have their name associated with the game on the basis that it was a fair competition was cheated too.

The list goes on and on.

Saracens stole money from my pocket, from your pockets, and from the metaphorical pockets of the clubs we love.

The stole the title, they ignored the damage they were doing, and worst of all they had the gall to stand up and pretend that they were doing it for the good of rugby.

Relegation is too good for them.

Wasps’ Training Facility

There has been a lot of talk in the rugby press recently about the state of Wasps training facility.  I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the things that have been said in an objective way and see if there is any truth to the rumours.

Wasps' Training Facility

Wasps’ Training Facility – The Facts

Let’s start by looking at the facts.

When Wasps moved to Coventry, there was no ready-made training facility to move into. Plans were mooted to create a brand new, state of the art facility that would be the envy of the rugby world.  But until that could happen something else would have to fill the gap.

Initially the squad continued to train in the aging facility in Acton, still home to the amateur Wasps FC.  It was simply too far away from the club’s new home to fulfil its purpose for very long, but a permanent home had proved harder to find than anyone hoped.  A decision was made to create a temporary training facility in partnership with a local club and the training centre moved to Broadstreet.

Plans were drawn up and approved for a facility at the Alan Higgs centre, however they fell through.  Recently an announcement was made that a partnership with Old Leamingtonians Rugby Club to build the new centre on their ground.

Until that happens Wasps will continue to use the temporary facilities at Broadstreet.

So that’s the facts.  Let’s look at the rumours.

Wasps Training Facility – The Rumours

These fall into two categories.  Those related to a former player, and those related to a current player.

James Haskell, who played for Wasps for many years has gone on record complaining about the terrible facilities, describing them as not suitable for a top-flight club.  Haskell also made his feelings public about there being something wrong with the culture of the club before he left.

People have said there is no smoke without fire, but I think it is no coincidence that culture of the club, and the state of the facilities were of no interest to him until after his contract was not renewed. Whatever you feel about that it does seem that there is likely to be an element of sour grapes in his comments.

The comments of Charlie Matthews recently would back that up. He was quoted in the Coventry Telegraph as saying “I came from Quins hearing these rumours about training in a shed. I came here and it’s awesome”.

So what about Daly.

Until an official announcement is made it is hard to work out what of the noise about Elliot Daly is actually factual and what is not.  But the consensus appears to be that he is invoking a get-out clause in his contract relating to the training facilities in order to sign with Saracens.

Whether this is true or not it is pretty clear that the facilities were good enough to get him to the level where he became a nailed-on starter for England and also the British and Irish Lions.  The same facilities where Willie le Roux went from a forgotten former international to a genuinely world class international in demand everywhere around the world.  To say nothing of the Willis brothers, Jake Cooper-Wooley, and Will Stuart.  I could even mention a former Fly half here, but I won’t.

If Elliot wants to leave then I wish him all the luck in the world.  Rugby is a short and potentially dangerous career – just ask Sam Jones – but if he is leaving, it is not for lack of somewhere to train.

Are Training Facilities that important?

I’d like to finish by talking about wrestling. I was never much of a rugby player, I was enthusiastic, but not gifted.  I am however a pretty good wrestler.  Or at least I was until I ruined my knee.  Not the leaping off the ropes WWE type wrestler, but the grinding someone’s face into the side of a cage type of wrestler.

In wrestling in the UK there is a place that has become the stuff of legends.  A gym known as Riley’s.

It was a big shed on the outskirts of Wigan, and it was famed for its lack of facilities.  There was a big mat on the floor, and some nails hammered into the wooden walls to hang your clothes on. Yet despite not having any weights, and cardio equipment, or even a working shower, it produced some of the greatest wrestlers that ever lived.  Several world champions came out of there, and some of them went on to coach some of the greatest names in combat sports today. People like Kazushi Sakuraba, Josh Barnett, Eric Paulson, and many many more (including yours truly) can trace their pedigree back to Riley’s Gym.

It may be that modern athletes feel they need climate control. Maybe they need constant metabolic monitoring. Maybe they need hot and cold running supplements on tap 24 hours a day.

Or maybe they are just an added bonus.

I’d like to suggest that the negative press about the training centre at Wasps is nothing more than a smokescreen to cover up the fact that players are moving for more money and don’t want to admit it. Or in Haskell’s case they are simply after the publicity he needs now his career is done.

What do you think?  Come join in the discussion on our forums.

Piutau Piutau Soundbite

I was asked if I could make this into a soundbite to use as a message alert. So I did…

 

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