Rugby Union: Gareth Dyer’s exclusive column

Stuart Lancaster

Stuart Lancaster

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The eighth rugby union World Cup might be the most open yet in terms of who might win the Webb Ellis Cup but it is certainly set to be the most profitable in its 28-year history.

The eighth rugby union World Cup might be the most open yet in terms of who might win the Webb Ellis Cup but it is certainly set to be the most profitable in its 28-year history.

This stems from the Rugby Football Union (RFU) guaranteeing the game’s governing body World Rugby, revenues of some £80 million pounds to stage the tournament in England.

As a direct consequence of this promise, the paying fans are being hit as hard as possible in the pocket. Rugby – like football – has been ramping up ticket pricing levels for many years.

To watch England versus Wales at Twickenham in the Six Nations in a decent seat currently costs around £80. A ticket for the same seat to watch the same two teams battle it out in their World Cup pool match will be £315.

Big prices and with them should come big expectations for the best tournament yet.

Geographically the tournament is directed towards the South with only six of the 48 games being held in the North.

When you consider that 17 fixtures are being given to three London stadiums and that a further five fixtures are being held between those rugby “hotbeds” of Milton Keynes and Brighton, then the organiser’s boast that they are taking the game “to all corners of the country” starts to sound a little hollow.

On the field, England’s chances of winning the tournament are fair but not as strong as they should be.

Yes they are drawn in a ridiculously tough pool – the concentration of four sides ranked in the world’s top nine is a farce when you look at the weakness of some of the other pools – but England, who begin their campaign against Fiji tonight at Twickenham, should really be nailed on favourites to win the trophy at the start of a home World Cup.

They may still prevail but there are many unknowns about Stuart Lancaster and his squad going into the competition that should have long since been resolved. The selection in midfield is untested, the problems at hooker have deepened during the warm-up matches and the squad is light in terms of overall experience.

World Cup preparations are done in four year cycles so for the hosts to begin the tournament with these issues is unsatisfactory. But more generally, England as a rugby power should always be leading from the front and not content to just be a contender.

England has the biggest playing base in world rugby in terms of numbers playing the game while the RFU is the richest union in the sport.

In a game where size counts, these are two competitive edges that are not being used to their full advantage.

In rugby a good “big un” will always beat a good “little un” and there are none bigger in terms of resources than English rugby. The 2003 World Cup win should have started a period of sustained dominance for England.

Clive Woodward’s approach showed how success should be delivered. The adoption of his meticulous approach, mentality and suggested playing structure would have by now had the rest of rugby’s big nations on the run.

That Woodward was quickly jettisoned post 2003 – the momentum of the win dissipated quickly and most importantly the structure of the game in England still does not lend itself to the type of continuous success at international level that we see from New Zealand.

With all that in mind, it is perhaps understandable why the Red Rose has not built on 2003 as it should.

With England fans making up the majority of the paying support this time around and hence bearing the brunt of the big ticket prices, they should expect big things from their team.

Hence for the tournament to be judged a success for the RFU then its team needs to win on the field. Success should not just be measured in the level of profit it generates.

THE RIGHT IMAGE

In last week’s column, I touched on the need for Hoppers to start winning close games if they are to progress.

Saturday’s scrappy win over Sale FC was a step in the right direction with the game very much in the balance going into the last five minutes.

It was a disappointing game in terms of the level of skill and intensity on display but wins breed confidence and the team should take belief that they can build a positive season.

Coach Garth Dew and my successor Alan Holmes will be pleased the season is now fully underway as they look to mould the team into a successful unit.

When I was director of rugby, I always found the “off-season” to be one of the busiest and most time consuming periods of the year.

As with football, there are new signings to be sought, existing players to be re-signed, improvements made to the off field team, the training to be planned as well as the arrangement of the pre-season fixtures.

Add in the getting to grips with any new match day/off the field regulations and law changes and ordering kit or enticing sponsors and there is much to get stuck into.

Hoppers have made a few new signings this summer and it will be interesting to see their impact this year.

Since the game went “open” in the mid 1990s, the movement of players around clubs has increased massively.

In the past player movement was usually only down to a change of job or an opportunity to move into the first class game (as it was then).

Nowadays the financial pressures are high and clubs will target players (by fair means or foul) to try and persuade them to jump ship.

Occasionally you have to deal with agents at Hoppers level. The funniest episode I came across in this respect was during my efforts to re-sign a player for Hoppers.

He asked for time to consider the offer and duly came back the following week with a list of questions his agent (turned out to be his Dad) had suggested he ask.

Most were pretty straightforward to deal with but I was a little taken aback when the player asked how we as a club would protect his “image rights”?

Now I didn’t have this player down as the sort who would have an image to protect and this was quickly confirmed when this was put to him.

When asked what image protection was required, he quickly backed down. It turned out that a high profile footballer was in the midst of a big name transfer and the player admitted ‘I heard image rights being mentioned on Sky Sports News so I thought I better ask if mine would be affected…’.