If the Six Nations comes, can spring be far behind?
Well, no, it can’t. The competition, which starts today, comes to its unpredictable conclusion on March 15th, and that’s just a few days away from the spring equinox. The dark season is almost over. England have some tricky games to negotiate, beginning with France in Paris tomorrow. The Calcutta Cup game is in Edinburgh next Saturday, so a bad start could see England out of contention before they’ve properly started. On the other hand, win those two and…well, that’s what we love about sport.
The Saracens affair has cast a shadow over this latter part of the season. I am very much in two minds about it. I count few billionaires amongst my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances, but it seems to be the case that the rich have a cavalier attitude to financial rules. As a pensioner, I have to pay income-tax on my pension, which was itself funded by taxes I paid during my working days. Yet I read about a couple of well-known high street coffee shops and a famous mail-order organisation, who are rumoured to underpay their tax dues. Saracens certainly seem to have upset their peers in the Premiership. The wage-cap was agreed, and the agreement has been broken, so down they go.
The other side of the argument is whether there should be a wage-cap at all. There is something un-English about this device to ‘level the playing field’. In particular, how can it be right that a club, which developed a whole generation of England players, finds itself unable to compete within the rules for the services of those same players? In some ways it’s a free market; in other ways it is not.
There are financial worries at level 4, too, but they are not my worries! There is certainly no concern about the levelness of the playing field. Years of promotion and relegation have produced leagues, north and south, where week in, week out, games are closely contested and entertaining. I can think of nothing I would rather watch. Isn’t this the essence of English sport? We have our clubs and we support them through thick and thin.
There is one thought I would like to leave you with. Plastic pitches. As far as I know I’m on safe ground with Chester; at least they had a grass pitch last time I was there. Whatever. We are currently seeing an almost hysterical attitude towards player safety. Players are being red carded for acts that, a few years ago, would not have even been judged an offence. Speak out against it, as I am, and you risk being accused of being uncaring, out of touch, a dinosaur, even. But the whole issue of plastic pitches seems to have slipped underneath the safety radar.
There is a report from Premiership Rugby (September 2018) which compares injuries on grass and plastic surfaces. The conclusion is that there are more injuries on plastic, and that the average recovery times from those injuries are longer, also. So much so that what the report calls the ‘overall burden of injuries’ sustained on plastic is almost exactly twice that for grass, a ‘staggering figure’, in their own words.
This is a debate that should be in the open.