Pro rugby players: Wake up and smell capitalism

12 July 2020  |  Rich M

Pro rugby is a business run by business-people. These people are competitive, have well-developed egos and are used to getting their own way. Rugby has values at the community level but they don’t really exist in the pro game. People who say they do – or expect them to – are romantics who have not woken up to the overwhelming muscle of capitalism in sport. If recent events have taught the players anything, it is to stop expecting loyalty, fair play and a straight-shooter approach. 

Banahan, Manu and May

Fairness, loyalty and honesty have all been eroded by the competitive instincts that market forces create. Clubs and players regularly turn their backs on one another for commercial reasons. Matt Banahan is a case in point of how fealty and service is rewarded. Bath cut him away without a blink. Jonny May about-turned on Gloucester as soon as his stock rose, only to return when the cash at Tigers ran out. I am not criticising, it’s how it is. Manu has ended his family’s legendary 20-year association with Tigers for commercial reasons. Good luck to him.

The counterpoint to this is the loyalty that a number of the Saracens guys have shown to the club (now they face the Championship next season). A counterpoint that is valid but I don’t buy it. They are still on commercially attractive deals (probably better than they could get anywhere else in England) and the prospect of physically recovering and extending their careers through less playing time will have been hugely attractive.

Quins, Sarries and the French

Discipline, honesty and humility are adjectives that most clubs would espouse. Sarries had an alternative interpretation of these words. Harlequins blatantly cheated during Bloodgate. At minimum, The French national team violated the spirit of the game against Wales in 2017. Many would say their scrum manipulations violated more than the spirit.

The calamity of PRL

More recently, the out-and-out contempt PRL have shown for good governance is startling. As if Saracens salary cap behaviour wasn’t bad enough, PRL’s blundering of the punishment was more grist for the mill. Not satisfied by sullying their reputation, PRL’s recent June 18th salary cap stratagem demonstrated they are not even coy about their disregard for ‘rugby values’.

Podding about values

Ugo Monye and Lawrence Dallaglio both spoke on their respective podcasts about certain behaviour being inconsistent with rugby’s values. Wake up lads, they have disappeared beyond recognition. Ellis Genge seems to be the only player who has pegged the current system for what it is and reacted appropriately. He spoke on The House of Rugby podcast about what a con ‘loyalty’ in pro rugby is. Values don’t exist in pro rugby any more than they do in investment banking – ABC pays more –get a job there; Bob is no longer effective – get rid of him. It’s not good or bad, it just is.

Rugby values do, however, exist at the lower levels of rugby. If you want to see, taste and smell rugby values, cruise by the quirky, asbestos scout hut of Barnes RFC on a Saturday; or the soggy floodplains of Hereford RFC. Otherwise, take your cues on pro rugby ‘values’ from Ellis Genge.