There is no substitute for playing the game, try as you might and no matter what you do, nothing matches actually playing the game. At the start of every season despite the efforts of all the teams to prepare with pre-season training and ‘friendlies,’ there is always the unexpected – and boy did we get some this season!
The thrashing of Northampton by Sarries, Quins humiliation by London Irish, champions Exeter losing their crown in the first game against Gloucester. All this in the first games of the season when the players should have been at their best.
And we have seen how, after a couple of games, teams have improved dramatically, Northampton beating local rivals Leicester and following that with Friday’s win against Bath while other first week losers have stepped up their games and been rewarded with wins.
Quins beating Gloucester and Exeter’s wins against London Irish and Worcester have eased the pain of that first loss.
While it makes for an exciting start to the season, it is a nightmare for those trying to prepare a team for the rigors of a long professional season where it is imperative that you start well, especially for those who can expect to be among the stragglers at the bottom of the table come the end of the season.
The win that Irish achieved against Quins has given them a bit of breathing space despite losing their next two games while, much as I hate to say it, Worcester are already looking prime candidates for the drop.
How they will turn their season round when they have been on the wrong end of some pretty one-sided games, shipping 100 points while only scoring 28, is the big question.
The job of motivating the players and possibly trying to recruit some new talent becomes harder as the club struggle to compete, and yet we are only in the third week of competition.
One club that seem to have put those problems behind them is Newcastle, where Dean Richards has once again shown what a good coach he is.
Third in the table and off playing Sarries in the States in probably the prestige game of the Premiership season, who would have thought a few years ago, Newcastle, the constant relegation favourites would be where they are today?
Speaking of Saracens, Billy Vunipola’s comment that players could go on strike unless the season is shortened, throws up some interesting points.
Billy is aware that the ‘suits’ as he calls them, know that player welfare is an issue and talk a lot about how to manage it, but do very little.
Surely, this should be something for the RPA to be championing and confronting but as they are part funded by the Premiership and the RFU, there may be a slight conflict of interests.
Billy’s view that increases in the salary cap should be used to recruit more players is probably right but I am not sure that too many players would agree to cuts in wages to fund bigger squads for their clubs.
Billy plays for a club that have one of the biggest and best squads in the Premiership and has a theoretical maximum limit of 32 games a season. In fact, in the 2015/16 season most of the players in the senior England squad played the equivalent of just 23 matches, so he should be in a better position than many of his Premiership colleagues.
I must admit I am a little surprised by his comments as I feel that Saracens are one of the better clubs when it comes to managing their players’ welfare and long-term future.
Although Vunipola would probably be selected for most of the season’s ‘big games’, the size of Sarries squad allows for a degree of player rotation helping players like him manage their season.
He is right when he says that, “none of the ‘suits’ have ever played nine months in today’s rugby” but they are the ones that finance the game and carry the losses created by the salaries of today’s players.
Unfortunately, like it or not, players are paid too much in relation to what the sport generates even with the growing support – but whatever he says about it not being about money, the higher the wage cap, the higher the wages demanded by players and their agents.
For all players at all levels it is a matter of choice, they choose how many games they play and at what standard. Professional players may not play as many games as their amateur predecessors but there are certain areas of the modern game which have a more damaging impact on the body, hence the game limit placed on elite players.
How player fatigue is managed is as much a choice for the player as it is for his club but it involves some hard decisions.
Vunipola could refuse his England call up but that could cost him around a quarter of a million pounds a year, or he could take a sabbatical from the game like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.
Unfortunately for him, they were employed by their Union who agreed to their break, but he could be like Alex Corbisiero who found his sabbatical cost him his career.
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