Jeff Probyn: Let’s suspend relegation during World Cup years

Scotland celebrate after beating Australia in Perth At last, with the summer tours over, we can reflect on what has been a rollercoaster season for all. This World Cup year threw the Premiership into early chaos as some of the big-name clubs  struggled to cope without their star players but it soon regained its ‘business as usual’ look with the same old teams battling it out at the top and bottom by the end of the club season.
As an aside, because it would appear that the RWC causes so many problems for the club game, has anyone thought of suspending promotion and relegation throughout the whole league system during World Cup seasons?
That would give clubs at all levels an opportunity every four years to take stock and build for the following season.
Preparation for the increase of interest that RWC always generates could be made by the clubs, who could also rest players and, in so doing, possibly reduce the overall number of injuries and even guard against burn-out.
International rugby was the highlight of the year with the sport’s premier competition being staged by its No.1 brand nation – New Zealand who managed (against all expectations) to produce a profit for the IRB.We had a World Cup that had everything, from the pathos of a lost England struggling under the weight of expectation, while suffering a barrage of vilification from the Press, to an expectant New Zealand nation’s All Blacks team at last managing to live up to their reputation as best in the world – even if they did need a little refereeing help to subdue a French side that had reached the final despite, rather than because of, head coach Marc Lievremont.
We shared in the disappointment of Ireland and Scotland, who never achieved what they had hoped for, and Wales being robbed of their chance of glory by the only referee brave enough to send a player off for tip-tackling during the entire tournament.
We English then had to endure a scandal that rocked the sport to its foundations and led to a number of other major incidents that revolved around a series of leaks from the RFU board and the ineffective way in which the council policed its senior management, a situation that even drew criticism from the Government.
But by far the worst breach was the release of a report compiled by the PRA containing a number of anonymous player interviews that were given on the basis that they would only be available to the Union in order to improve the management of the England team.
The selective release of that document gave a picture of a much divided squad that was almost child-like with complaints that some players had raised about other players, thereby damaging the reputation of all concerned.  The failure of the RFU to publish the name or names that came out of an investigation set up to find the source of the leaks, has left an open wound of distrust between the players and the administrators that in all probability will never be healed, simply because, even if the RFU knew who it was that had leaked the report, they could not name them as they would have no proof.
This situation could only be remedied should The Times volunteer the name of their source, which is highly unlikely!
Fortunately, we had the distraction of the Six Nations with a new (albeit temporary) coach, Stuart Lancaster, to hang our hopes on.
Second place was a good result for a new team, even if there was a lot of luck with the bounce of the ball from a couple of charge downs, although in sport they always say you make your own luck, I am sure that England will miss the newly retired Charlie Hodgson’s expertise in that area.
The summer has not been kind to us in the Northern Hemisphere as we have had to endure the usual ritual of watching our teams travel south to suffer beatings at the hands of our colonial cousins.
Ironically, the team that had the best of this summer’s tour was the side that won the wooden spoon – Scotland, who by beating Australia, Fiji and Samoa were the only side to return undefeated.
Wales suffered the disappointment of losing all three Tests against Australia as did Ireland against the All Blacks while England managed to avoid the same fate by drawing their last Test despite losing their captain for ten minutes to the sin bin.
Those results have put extra pressure on this autumn’s return fixtures because the seeding for the next World Cup is made this December and a top-four place in the IRB rankings would mean, given current positions that England would not have to face a SANZA country in their group.
Of all the home Union teams only Wales have dropped down the table, from fourth to sixth, but with fixtures against Argentina and Samoa, along with Australia and New Zealand, this November they will be hoping to move back ahead of England (currently fourth) who face the big three New Zealand, Australia, South Africa after a first Test against Fiji.
All in all, it has been a long but ultimately good season for the game on the field of play with just the mess that surrounds the scrum the only downside, it just remains to see whether the IRB and the Unions can sort that out or make it worse!

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