Shame And Scandal

THERE are several ‘journalists’ working for the national media that I once had the misfortune to call ‘colleagues’.

Quite frankly, they were awful and, in a previous age, would have been sacked without further thought.

Two people, in particular, stand to mind for their total lack of ability, laziness and desire to survive by smiling stupidly, apologising, nodding as if they understood and going back to their coffee and cake as if nothing had gone wrong.

One is in a senior position on a national. A man who could never work as part of a team is now leading one. It’s the way it is.

The other, taking the money, keeping his head down, a nodding dog of a ‘reporter’ who will write what he’s told to and make a hash of that. Before you know it, he’ll be promoted to a senior role, too.

The purpose of this blog isn’t to settle old scores. There aren’t any for me. It’s not jealousy, either, because I have had my opportunity to work for the nationals and refused. I’d rather be penniless and have my honour, than money and no integrity.

It is instead, a scene setter. For these are the people who mingle with the politicians and their spin doctors and press hawks and disseminate what is happening in and around Parliament to the great unwashed.

These are the people who are scared of losing their position, with the ‘glory’ and ‘bank balance’ it brings. Who aren’t holding politicians to account, as newspapers are supposed to do, because it could impact on their careers. Whose own bosses and owners are also involved in relations with the political classes and whose mission is not journalistic as the dictionary definition suggests.

And that’s where we are at. Like it or not.

In the past, catching anyone out mattered more to newspapers because shame and scandal drove up sales. Today, there are some newspapers that care more about safeguarding their pals as sales are nosediving and, with careers slipping away, they worry about their own futures.

The bigger selling UK newspapers, generally, focus on celebrity, or rather so-called celebrity. I was appalled to watch Joey Essex in action on a ‘celebrity show’ the other night. Is this what Great Britain has become?

So, lots of key issues affecting all of us, go under-reported. Ignored for the sake of what? Joey Essex and the Kardashians?

Because it’s all a magic trick. Donald Trump, across the Pond, is a truly dreadful person. An even worse president. But he is expert at the art of distraction.

Similarly, the incumbent government is proving all smoke and mirrors. It’s not so much a good day for burying bad news, as happened under Tony Blair’s Labour, but a good day to send up so much smoke that no-one can see what is happening.

And the journalistic integrity that still had traction when I started in the business has slipped away. ‘Journalists’ more focussed on their own enrichment than fact-finding are only part of the problem, though.

It’s the way society has become. One of entitlement, of rights not deserved or won, but by the big ‘yappers’. The people that think ‘road rage’ is acceptable. The people that will drive through a red light and argue they had a right. The people that drive through my village at 60mph and above, while the speed limit is 30mph. The people that know best.

Likewise, we’re in a divisive society and the politicians and media have clubbed together to provide the enemies. It’s the disabled, the unemployed, the immigrants. Never the billionaire tax dodgers, the company bosses crying for England and St George but employing people across the world at the expense of the British jobs they claim to champion, or the politicians engaged in self-enrichment schemes aplenty.

I’d like to think at one stage we had honourable politicians, but for many it’s always been a game. Once upon a time, the hypocrisy would have been exposed for a newspaper sale. Now? Like the politicians who appear to forget they’re supposed to be looking after our best interests, many journalists are looking after their own. Clickbait and celebrity is the safest option. Sod the truth, or matters of importance. No-one cares about them anymore.

The game has changed. The stakes are higher and we, the people, are the losers. We just exist to fill the bank accounts of the billionaires that bit more. But we have also been the architects of our demise, because we’ve sat back and taken the bait, ignored the warning signs and let the damage be done.

Going Back To My Roots

IF THERE’S one thing the Covid 19 lockdown has taught us is that top class sport is a financial lie for many clubs.

So maybe it’s time to go back to the grassroots and support sport for all of us.

If Rugby’s English Premiership clubs are struggling to survive despite a £13m shot in the arm for each of the 13 shareholders from new bedfellow, CVC Capital Partners, then what hope for the rest? Especially those the experts tell us are ‘languishing’ in the lower reaches of the sport.

Tell that to the guys, gals and youngsters looking forward to match day, whatever level they play. If rugby is truly a sport for all, as the administrators tell us, why in the next breath do they seem to downplay the importance of the amateur clubs and players in it for the love of the game?

Because amateur clubs are going to suffer from Covid 19 just like the big boys. Perhaps more. And their true importance in local communities goes a fair bit beyond what the bigger clubs can muster.

Take my home city of Coventry, where Wasps rest in the Premiership and Coventry sit in the Championship. Wasps’ finances have been parlous, on and off, for a good few years now. If you spend time on the Wasps unofficial supporters’ board, there is quite a bit of unrest among their fans at the big losses being made.

How the club will fare post-Covid 19 remains to be seen, but as some of its own supporters suggest, what if its business model is ‘unsustainable’? How will its owners tackle the problems posed by Covid 19?

Coventry RFC, an ambitious club which hoped to make it back to English rugby’s top table, has succeeded with an admittedly modest £30,000 crowd-funder to keep things ticking over. But don’t think life is that easy at Butts Park Arena, especially with the need for more cash should the club ever win promotion. There are still bills to be paid, wages to pay and budgets to be considered as sport recovers, not just from the lockdown but financial issues dogging rugby union across the board. Cov were among those set to lose out from RFU funding next term.

It is not that either club have done anything wrong, but that they have to spend – and lose – to get the supposed big rewards of Premiership status and the chance of European glory that comes with it. It’s the big gamble that has seen some famous clubs fold and return to the amateur game.

Both Cov and Wasps have been on the white-knuckle ride of being lost to the professional game in the last decade. At BPA, Jon Sharp has done wonders to turn the club’s fortunes around, but no-one could have expected the damage Covid 19 has done, especially with the dreadful stance of the insurers leaving clubs to struggle on.

So back to the amateur game, those without the big financial backers. These clubs, made up of people within their own communities and welcoming of others, are deserving of our support.

They will need every ounce of help that can be garnered from their own communities, too, because I’m not sure the RFU, on current evidence, will do much more than provide lip service.

What of Keresley, in the 10th  tier of English rugby, but playing a hugely important part in the sporting community locally?

Or Newbold-on-Avon, in the sixth tier, doing exactly the same in its corner of Warwickshire?

These are big clubs in terms of what they offer and their commitment to rugby and, indeed, other sports. They inspire a peculiar type of loyalty that is missing in the top echelons of the game. They provide opportunity across the board and further the love of rugby as much as an English Grand Slam winning team can. I am biased having played at Newbold in the 1990s and had some involvement at Keresley in recent years.

They are great clubs, run by great people, supported by great people, but are going to have great struggles, just like the rest.

So, support the likes of Wasps and Coventry all you like. But don’t forget the smaller clubs. If you only support Wasps and Coventry at home games, when they’re playing away take a trip to a local club and experience rugby up close and personal. If you’re a loyal home and away supporter to the professional outfits, take the spare weekends – and there are many – to go and cheer on your local club. They need it.

Buy a pint. Or two. And a pie. Or a plate of chips. See if there are opportunities to use your skills to help the club. Or just go back and buy another pint and pie. Even buying a pin badge as a show of support will help.

And while I talk of Coventry and Warwickshire, the same is true everywhere. If rugby’s not your bag and you follow Coventry City FC, then take the Saturday’s you aren’t cheering on the Sky Blues in person or in front of the pub telly to go and see local football in the raw.

Rugby, as a professional sport, has overstretched itself, spending more than crowds and other revenues provide, with the exception of clubs like Exeter, that invested carefully and built up businesses that were more than just about rugby or sport. That said, even Sandy Park accounts will struggle thanks to the lockdown.

And with the Rugby Football Union, which was proving miserly to a point when it came to funding clubs below the top level, now talking about huge, multi-million pound lossses and the potential need for government bailouts, it’s concerning.

Because, while the likes of Wasps are apparently struggling, and Cov could do with more investment, somehow, someone with big pockets will always come to the aid of the bigger clubs.

It’s the smaller ones, those playing a big part in promoting sport, team-work, togetherness in their local communities that deserve and need your support more.

 

 

 

 

No More Heroes (Part Deux)

SO, I’VE made my picks for the Charge of the Light Brigade (with the exception of Jonah!) now it’s time for the heavies.

These are the forwards that have made their mark on me down the years, whose quality at the time they played was beyond exceptional, although some in a very understated way.

Number Eight:

For my British Lions’ dream team, it’s not as tough a call as I imagined. Mervyn ‘Merv the Swerve’ Davies.  He was a stand-out player, enough to muscle his way onto the legendary 1971 tour to New Zealand and then to South Africa three years later.

Sadly, injury ended his glittering career at 29 when he was still getting better. Two Grand Slams, a Five Nations Championship win and a Triple Crown were among his international honours. And he played a major part in that success. A formidable captain of Wales, in his 46 internationals, including Wales and the Lions, he was on the losing side just nine times.

Opposite him, it’s a tough call for me between Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford and Zinzan Brooke. While Brooke is perhaps the all-rounder, Shelford was the more inspirational, the man who would put his body on his line that bit more – not forgetting his testicle incident (he tells it well on YouTube) – and was the greater leader. For those reasons, Wayne Shelford just edges it.

Flankers: Another two Lions on the flanks for my all-time Home Nations XV.

‘Iron’ Mike Teague and John Taylor. Another relatively simple decision, although Fergus Slattery wasn’t far off. There was something about Taylor. He covered every blade of grass and could tackle ferociously – everything you could hope for in a 7. What’s more he had a conscience, famously deciding against the 1974 South Africa tour because of the Apartheid regime.

Covering every blade of grass and tackling ferociously could also be said for Teague, the Gloucester builder, who often went under the radar. But he offered far more, as a supporting player, in rucks and mauls, and in open play. He carried well but made the others around him shine.

Opposite these two, three men, nominally openside flankers, are pushing for the two spots.

Jean Pierre Rives is an automatic choice, a brilliant footballer whose flowing blond mane helped him, and his heroics, stand out. He was lightning quick with a tackle few could resist. He seemed to be everywhere on the pitch and you would be forgiven for thinking France had cloned him and put a dozen doubles out there. He was, to be honest, a damn pest for the opposition.

Then, it’s a tough call between World Cup winning skipper Richie McCaw and his fellow New Zealander, Ian Kirkpatrick. The oddities of hemispheric differences meant that McCaw was a 7 despite being more in the mould of a Home Nations’ 6. But he offered so much more.

In the modern era, with so many more test matches to play, he broke record after record. The first All Black to 100 caps, the fastest rugby union player to reach three figures, setting the world record for international caps, two winning World Cup medals, both as captain, three times World Rugby Player of the Year. Just a few standouts.

His right for inclusion in a Rest of the World XV speaks for itself, but I’d still favour ‘Kirkie’.

While Kirkpatrick had a miserable time as All Blacks captain, he was also a record-setter in his day and it is tempting to consider how big a success he would be if he had been born around the time of McCaw.

He set a record for AB consecutive appearances, his 16 tries were then a record for a forward in international rugby and he was part of the Rest of the World XV when the RFU celebrated its centenary at Twickenham in 1971. Taking the captaincy mantle from Colin Meads was a big thumbs up to his characteristics, but his failure to oversee a disciplined squad was his undoing, coupled with the lack of backing from most around him.

So, it was the mental strength of the man, let down by his team-mates and management during his time in charge, but willing to pull on the famed jersey as a player and prove his immense worth until he was jettisoned in favour of youth in 1977, something he would have accepted because he was a 21 year old who forced his way into the touring ABs team a decade earlier.

Lock forward:

I was a big fan of Wade Dooley, Gordon Brown and Donal Lenihan, but two men are stand outs.

Willie John McBride and Martin Johnson. If you’ve spent five minutes in the presence of Willie John, you’ll know why. Even in his vintage years he is a tour de force. He possessed everything in his day, but it was his mental strength that stands head and shoulders above the rest. His brain and quiet, dry sense of humour, marked him out as Captain Fantastic on the Lions tour of 1974.

Johnson shared some of McBride’s strength and appetite for battle. As England’s World Cup winning captain he threw his body on the line time and time again. He refused to kowtow to Irish jiggery pokery in a key Six Nations game and strode the line between the amateur game and professional era, getting better by the season.

I remember when he worked for Alliance and Leicester and was visiting their Coventry branch in the High Street. I was talking to a friend in another building society nearby and it got dark as Johnson walked past, filling the window frame with his bulk.

It would take someone special to even contemplate taking this pairing on, but Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads is that person.

I read many top XV picks from time to time and mostly seem to include players from recent memory, as if those past giants of the game belong in the history books. Not so with Meads.

McBride said Meads was ‘the best, most aggressive, and perhaps the most totally committed player’.

Meads, in 15 years in an All Black jersey, set the standards for future AB forwards. David Norrie, in his book, Great Rugby Players, states: ‘Not only did they have to be able to win the ball, but be able to use it and chase after it as well. Their duties were no longer restricted to playing a full part in the line-out, scrum, maul and ruck; now New Zealand forwards supported attacks, showing that fragile handling and primitive running by those in the ‘boiler room’ was a thing of the past.’

With his fine rugby brain, Meads revolutionised not just New Zealand rugby but the game across the world. He was a thinker, an innovator, willing to listen to new ideas and concepts.

But he backed it all up with his performances. A true legend.

I’ve gone for a South African giant to pair with Meads, although Frik Du Preez was small for a lock forward at 6ft 2in tall. He made up for this with excellent understanding of line-out play, an appetite for attack and speed unrivalled among his forward peers.

There have been some talented locks since, but he offered something extra to most in his position, as well as being able to cover the basics well.

The front row is completely alien to me. In my rugby playing days I played anywhere from 10 to 15 – never a 9 despite my smallish stature – but, also, strangely, at blindside flanker. So I have an understanding and appreciation of the locks, back three and the backs division. But the front row? Hmm.

I am confident that Ian ‘Mighty Mouse’ McLaughlan would be a good call for anyone. At 5ft 9in tall, he was told he would never make it as a top level prop and delighted in proving his critics wrong. He was another keen thinker who helped change front row play and make it more important in games. The loose-head was a key figure in the victorious Lions’ tours of 1971 and 1974. Jason Leonard pushes him close, but McLaughlin makes the cut.

I remember interviewing Cliff Morgan 20-plus years ago and he talked of Welshman Bryn Meredith as the consummate hooker, among several who would grace the modern game with their presence.  A top notch player in Sevens Rugby, Meredith was mobile, a thinker and a gentleman who many suggest was among the standout post-war players.

He played on three consecutive Lions’ tours setting standards of play and behaviour that helped transform his native Wales into world beaters.

Fran Cotton, another former Cov player, makes up the Home Nations trio at the coal face. He was head and above the best prop of his era, tall (by the standards of the time at 6ft 2in and a great scrummager) and was a standout player on the Lions’ tours of 1974 and 1977.

Their opposition is an all New Zealand front row – Ken Gray, Wilson Whineray and Sean Fitzpatrick.

Whineray was in the mould of Colin Meads, a great captain, rugby thinker and innovator, and his prop partnership with Gray gave them a huge edge in the scrum. Fitzpatrick, a World Cup winner in 1987, embodied everything that his colleagues had established before. A true professional, a ‘Baby Black’ with skills and temperament to be the best in the game, and with 92 caps, he was a key figure in the AB’s side for more than a decade.

 

No More Heroes (Part One)

I’VE been reading with interest a lot of greatest XVs during the coronavirus lockdown.

And amazement, I hasten to add.

But sparked by a friend’s piece, which is well worth a read –  https://armchairfan75.wordpress.com/2020/04/26/thats-entertainment-or-is-it/ – I started wallowing in a sea of nostalgia.

Who would make my British Lions best? And who would be lining up against them?

It’s far to say that not many of the ‘modern era’ make the cut. Yes, you could argue, as Steve does in his blog post mentioned above, that standards are higher in terms of skillset and fitness, fewer mistakes with ball in hand, but if some of my picks were playing today how good would they be?

Of course, Cliff Morgan, that great Welsh 10 of the post-war era, stood 5ft 7in tall and weighed 12 stone. By contrast, George Ford, the lightest fly-half of the Home Nations today is 13 stone 10 and 5ft 9in tall.  Rugby has changed immeasurably, but would Morgan cut it today had he been born around the turn of the century? I’d like to think so.

Because in my list of players, they were the golden boys of their age. Yes, there’s a whole raft of factors at play comparing yesteryear to modern times, but I’d expect them to be golden boys of today.

So, without further ado, here are my picks for the respective backlines.

Full back: JPR Williams.

For me, this is a no brainer, although it’s hard on Andy Irvine, the epitomy of Scottish flair. Yes, there have been other notable full backs in the Home Nations, but JPR had it all. He was a tackler par excellence, a gifted runner and support player, steady under the high ball and even kicked. But it was his courage, worthy of a Victoria Cross, in some of the toughest battles of his Welsh, Barbarians and British Lions career. He gave not an inch.
While other full backs have survived because they were excellent kickers, JPR had a wonderful read of the game.

Opposite JPR would be Serge Blanco for exactly the same reasons. There have been other great full backs in the Southern Hemisphere and for France, but Blanco was a major point of difference in teams. His involvement in a game would be worth the admission alone.

Wingers: For me, with a Coventry and English bias, it would be David Duckham and Peter Jackson. Both were extraordinary with the ball in hand, but also had a supernatural reading of the game.

In his book, Great Rugby Players, David Norrie writes of Jackson: ‘(He) was a world class winger who ghosted his way through packed defences with bewildering ease.’

Duckham? Look for a highlights reel on YouTube. He was just something else.

It’s hard on the likes of great wingers like Gerald Davies and Tony O’ Reilly,  but these two edge it.

Against them, what about a pairing of Jonah Lomu and David Campese? Other great wingers like Brian Habana and Patrice Lagisquet miss out, but how many tries would these two score in a game? And how exciting would it be to watch them in action?

Centres: Quite a bit of competition here, Clive Woodward, Ray Gravell, Jeff Butterfield, Ian McGeechan, Will Carling among them. For me it comes down to two from three: Jerry Guscott, Mike Gibson and Brian O’Driscoll. They’re all better known for their attacking play, but when you’ve got wingers of the calibre I’ve picked, they need the ball in hand.

These guys weren’t slouches in defence, but all had a magic when it come to unlocking opposition defences. I’d opt for Guscott and Gibson, but given the opposition, BOD would be right up there in the reckoning.

France’s Phillipe Sella would be an automatic pick for the Rest of the World team. He had everything and such a balance and strength in his running. My choice for his partner would be the All Black Frank Bunce. He was deceptively immense. He had all the attributes needed to thrive in a running AB’s team and was teak tough in defence.

Fly-Half:

Here we go. So many great 10s to choose from. As an Englishman, Johnny Wilkinson is the best fly-half we’ve had in more than half a century, since the days of Richard Sharp, but would I choose him over Cliff Morgan or Phil Bennett? No. Absolutely not. He was predominantly an excellent kicker who improved in attack over his test career. Defensively, he was probably the best of the options I’ve considered, but compared to the above pairing, or Jackie Kyle and Barry John? I’d want a fly-half to lead the attack. The King, Barry John, just about edges it for me, but it’s a hugely tough call. Also a shout out to John Rutherford and Olly Campbell, those 80s stalwarts, but John was the master, and not just for his heroics on the 1971 Lions tour.

So many great fly halves to choose in terms of opposition, but really one name stands out – Dan Carter. He had it all. Who can argue?

Scrum-half:
Again a tough call, but Gareth Edwards is head and shoulders above the following pack for me. Roy Laidlaw was a star for Scotland, Peter Stringer immense for Ireland and Rob Jones was a Lions’ number one for very good reason.

Edwards is one of rugby’s immortals.

Against him would be Joost Van Der Westhuizen, the South African who had it all on the pitch. New Zealand, Australia and France have had world class nines, but Joost, who sadly died from Motor Neurone Disease a few years back, was, like Edwards, in a different class. Nick Farr Jones, Sid Going and the sublime Ken Catchpole are worthy of mention.

The pack will follow soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Heroes and Villains

THE British have always needed heroes. Historically, when they’ve been in short supply we’ve invented them, while others have been elevated to a status beyond their abilities.

In Captain Tom Moore, the 99 year old who, with the aid of a walking frame, has completed a marathon 100 laps of his garden to raise money for the NHS, we have a new hero.

He wanted to complete the challenge before his 100th birthday on April 30 and, while 25 metres is a simple goal for many, take into account his years and the reliance on that walking frame. As a former company sergeant major of mine would say: ‘Outstanding.’

More outstanding is the fact that he thought of others first. While many in Britain have panic-shopped, stripping supermarket shelves of essentials and toilet rolls, Mr Moore, who served during World War Two, has shown the very best of British.

People are clamouring for him to be honoured after he raised more than £17.4 million for NHS Charities Together. He only dreamed of raising £1,000.

But here’s my problem. Why are people like Captain Tom having to show their mettle and raise funds for the NHS? Because that paints a different picture to me.

Many people who have been applauding him will have voted for a government that has systematically underfunded our NHS for a decade, maybe even Captain Tom himself. And my problem is generally with the politics of unfettered capitalism, so my scorn is not reserved just for the Conservatives, but also Labour. When they were last in power, Labour saddled the NHS, education and other key services with Private Finance Initiative debt that has been crippling.

Governments, of whichever political persuasion, should be funding the NHS so that it is fit for purpose, not strangling the life out of it.

Now Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among those of his party cheering when a pay rise for NHS staff was voted down, a key supporter of privatising the NHS and who lied about funding the NHS with money ‘saved’ from Britain’s membership of the EU, says he owes it his life. He has also praised Captain Tom’s effort and talked about recognising it in some way.

Surely, more meaningful funding for the NHS would be a fitting way?

And I don’t mean just throwing blank cheques. That would be stupid. But I know people working in various sectors of the NHS and I know their experiences. We should go back to a system of asking the key people working in the NHS what equipment they need rather than a political class of manager deciding what can and can’t be done without, targets and ‘blue sky thinking’.

Remember, the government undertook a study of the threat of a pandemic hitting the UK back in 2017, was warned the NHS would struggle and did sod all about it. Covid 19 was always going to be a killer, but how many lives have been lost needlessly? Instead of thinking about the numbers, think of people you know and realise each statistic is a person, loved and loving. At the time of writing, the official UK death toll linked to this coronavirus is nearing 15,000. The population of Truro, where I live, is 21,000.

I’m a supporter of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and the Air Ambulance service. These are both charities and elect to remain so because they don’t want to be strapped with government demands if they were to be funded by Westminster.

Another sad reflection of our political governance.

The big one for me is the ‘need’ for ex-service charities. I applaud the work of the Royal British Legion, St Dunstans, RAF Benevolent Fund and other charities, including the individual regimental charities out there. But should they exist?

Don’t get me wrong, I find the money to put in collection tins each year for the RBL, happily, too, but in a modern civilised world I wonder why I should have to?

If a government can find the money to send our people into war, they should find the money to treat and care for them when the experience turns sour, whether physically or mentally.

Why are churches, faith groups and wonderful organisations like the Sally Army still having to do so much brilliant work in 21st Century Britain? Why have we so many food banks when supermarkets continue to make super profits?

This is a government that has just rubber stamped a £10,000 award for each MP having to work from home during the Covid 19 lockdown. That’s a cool £6.5 million of taxpayers’ money being spent on those already on a basic £79,469 per annum.

Sod those being furloughed and promised 80 per cent of their salary. Sod the self-employed.

I thank my lucky stars that there are people like Captain Tom out there. It’s people like him we need in Westminster, putting the country first with action not words. And his desire to support the NHS when people need it most.

That’s not just during the Covid 19 pandemic, but 24 hours every day, in saving lives and making our quality of life better.

Captain Tom, I salute you.

 

And So To F…

IN A recent chat with Coventry’s Director of Rugby, Rowland Winter, he said the rugby I had played and fallen in love with had disappeared from the professional game.

How right he is. And it’s no use hanging on to a dream, or a lie, that rugby is the same.

Let me be clear, I wholeheartedly agree that rugby players need to be paid – and be looked after by their employers. That is not in doubt.

But I fear that money has damaged the sport beyond the pail. And I’m at odds with so much that is going on, least of all the RFU’s behaviour, which critics should realise is not just about the savage cuts proposed to the second tier. Or the news that the Six Nations will follow test cricket onto pay-per-view.

I guess that’s me done as an England fan, as the RFU in the guise of England Rugby has upped costs to watch games at headquarters. Replica jerseys start from £60 and now, in the rush to win more money that won’t go to the lower levels of the sport, I’ll have to pay a megalomaniac Aussie to watch my team in the Six Nations.

No thanks.

The world has changed, but how have attendances at cricket test matches fared since the game got less exposure on free-to-air TV?

How has the county game in this country suffered?

Because cricket is constantly trying to reinvent itself to try to win fans and bums on seats. Test cricket was dead, so 50 overs was the way to go. Then came Twenty20 and now The Hundred.

A constant twiddling with the rules of the game, as we’ve seen with the laws of rugby. Three points for a try? Nah, let’s encourage teams to be more attacking, more exciting. Let’s put it up to four. Still not working? Let’s reward tries with five points.

Does it stop turgid play when all is up for grabs? No. Many teams spend more effort killing possession for the opposition than spinning the ball out to the flanks for truly exciting rugby that would get bums on seats. Offside seems to be ignored, players no longer stay behind the kicker, they go on walkabout when a penalty kick is being taken and transgress onto the opposition side to be a nuisance without fear of censure.

A blind eye seems to be turned to cheating and dirty tactics by referees, presumably because the pressure to let the game flow outweighs the traditional values of the game.

Of course, there is a school of skullduggery in rugby that goes back to William Webb Ellis and his cheating ways.

We had the ’99 Call’ on the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa; I well remember the battle of Cardiff in 1987 when England and Wales butted heads; Peter Winterbottom kicked a French player stuck in a ruck in the quarter finals of the 1991 World Cup, while a year or so later, Wade Dooley whacked a young Doddie Weir in the face in a disgraceful off the ball incident.

But today, we have players and captains, too, visibly arguing with referees. Dan Biggar’s behaviour in the game against France was simply dreadful. His scrum half colleague, the Welsh replacement Tomos Williams, wasn’t much better. And Nick Tompkins bad-tempered whining after the whistle that he ‘was upset’ goes very much against rugby’s traditional values. Play hard, shake hands, have a beer.

That same weekend I wasn’t impressed by Johnny Sexton for Ireland, or Owen Farrell, England’s captain. They don’t set the example we old ‘uns expect.

And what’s with the lack of hush for the kickers at Dublin, Edinburgh or Cardiff?

What are the authorities doing to stamp this kind of behaviour out?

Apparently nothing. Because the principle of car crash TV or sporting events appeals in today’s world, with presidents and prime ministers not fit for office, and everyone in the public eye blaming everyone – and everything – else for their appalling behaviour.

No one is being held to account, bar the odd sacrificial lamb like Saracens, to give the impression that decency, following the rules and rugby values, do matter.

And what have we seen for the money pouring into the 15 a side game?

For most clubs, not very much.

The RFU has allowed the money men of the Premiership to protect their investments at the expense of the majority. No knockout cup similar to the FA Cup, where there could be giant-killing acts and much needed money for those not enjoying the rewards of rugby’s top table.

The county championship has gone the same way, a watered down version of the contests that led to players being picked for England on the strengths of their showing.

And the slashing of funding to the Championship is, rightly, being criticised as ring-fencing the top tier by the back door. Without competition and the desire to get better and win, where would rugby in England – or any other country – be?

The RFU – and the body now known as World Rugby – have been failing the sport for sometime now. Chasing the buck, the yuan and the yen, while the rugby mad nations of the South Pacific have long been forgotten by the blazered buffoons.

I would prefer to focus on the game in Tonga, Fiji and Samoa, to foster growth and ensure players there are compensated well, in terms of pay and conditions, rather than ‘grow’ the sport in other countries. What about growing the sport in England, where the number of amateur clubs and teams are in freefall?

No. The idea seems to be to take the money and run. The more the better. To transform rugby into a sport for the modern TV era, with gimmicks aplenty and a bit of razzamatazz for those with short attention spans, what will they do with my sport?

Because with CVC, the hedge fund controlling matters to make millions from its investments in the Premiership and Six Nations, plus an eye on world rugby, those old values will matter less.

The RFU deserve the blame, as they have done for decades now, running a cherised sport into the ground. When numbers are dropping, they’ve followed the money at every turn. And rugby, the game I played and loved, is the victim.

 

You Can’t Say Crap On The Radio

POTTY training – the best of times, the worst of times.

Little Lizzie has been at it for about a month or so. So far, she’s aced it. I’m the one that’s struggling.

A perfect poo this morning delivered into said potty. Brilliant start. A wipe of the bum. Second stage mastered. So how the hell did the poo hit the bathroom floor as I tried to deliver it to South West Water? Third stage fail.

As if I needed more work, more cleaning, more stress around potty time. It wasn’t like this for Michael Bentine (old person joke!)

We live in a higgledy-piggledy house, the living quarters and kitchen upstairs, the bathroom and boys’ bedrooms down.

So, I’m getting plenty of much-needed exercise emptying potty after potty, up and down the stairs, as our Liz knows she gets rewarded for every successful wee and poo. Sometimes it’s no more than a thimble full. I think she holds back to get more treats.

Unless we have the rare accident. Then it’s like the Thames has broken its banks and there are yellow flood warnings. Quite apt in this case.

Yesterday, for example. She walked towards the potty, stood inches short, staring at the helicopter from RNAS Culdrose through the window and let forth. Living on a Cornish river, I wondered if she hadn’t brought a few buckets of that to toss on the laminated floor.

Mind you, I wonder if I could sue Culdrose for breaking her concentration?

And why are there never enough towels or kitchen paper to soak any mess up? Why it is always a battle? Twenty minutes trying to soak every bit of wet up, then another 10 cleaning it with anti-bacterial spray and then wiping that off.

All in all, Lizzie’s doing well. And highly praised for her success.

What about me? No-one seems to think about the poor old parent. We are the Without Whom Brigade who make potty training a success. These toddlers, no matter how smart or cute, couldn’t do it without us.

Yet no sweetie or choccie for me. No claps of congratulations, high fives or ‘well dones’.

Me? I’m just a slave in parent form. I won’t even talk about the 13 year old, whose first words on meeting are ‘what’s to eat?’

And dropping the poo? It’s never happened before. It was a slow motion moment. Potty clipping toilet bowl, turning in a scientifically impossible way and shooting out brown bomb like a misfiring howitzer.

Splat. And with none of the tongue in cheek fun of the old Batman series (more old people moments!)

I guess any parent is used to being hands deep in it from the moment their newborn spews out that awful black-green gunge, but still…

No medal on the horizon for me. Just an endless stream of wee that I hope I can manouevre correctly into the toilet.

What did Reader’s Digest say? Life’s like that.