Mark Reason: NZR and the RFU are selling out rugby with Twickenham match-up
OPINION: Once upon a time, in a far off land where young people played for the love of the game, the prospect of a rugby match between England and New Zealand was a wondrous thing. It was a time when old men in suits had not discovered that rugby was a brand and a product. It was a time when ordinary men and women could afford the price of a ticket to watch their heroes.
Then a couple of Aussies walked onto the pitch and showed fantasy rugby a red card. What were we thinking of? There was a fast buck to be made, so long as the new chairmen and chief executives of the game were prepared to take each other out in the air. Everyone piled in with swinging arms.
And now rugby has wandered off the pitch in search of an HIA. I wonder if there has ever been a more disgusting moment in the history of the game than the current lolly scramble over who gets the dosh from a prospective match between England and the All Blacks. Ian Ritchie, the CEO of the RFU, and Steve Tew, of New Zealand Rugby, are a pair of sell-outs arguing over who gets the cash for the sale of a soul that has long since departed.
Tew's absurd campaign to get half the gate receipts is a joke that he has to tell at the expense of the players that are being poached by the French and English clubs. Tew reminds me of Mr Spigott, the one-legged man auditioning for the part of Tarzan in the famous sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
Cook observes ruefully that Mr Spigott, being a 'unidexter', is deficient to the tune of one leg. He admits, "Your right leg, I like. I like your right leg. A lovely leg for the role. That's what I said when I saw you come in. I said, "A lovely leg for the role". I've got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is – neither have you."
And that is rather the trouble for Mr Tew. He is deficient in the leg department. In fact he may be even more deficient than the unfortunate Spigott who had at least the one leg to stand on, even if Moore wobbles about from time to time. I am not sure that Tew has even the solitary limb on which to stand.
NZR cut off their right leg long ago by their ongoing refusal to play Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Now if the New Zealand Rugby Union had a glorious history of hosting games against their impoverished neighbours and sharing the gate receipts, then Tew might be in a strong bargaining position with England.
But unfortunately New Zealand has done next to nothing to help the islands. In fact they rather want them to be economically dependent so that the talent is forced to migrate here and strengthen the All Blacks. It is a rich seam and it goes some way to explaining why the All Blacks have only played these nations a collective 11 times outside games forced upon them by the World Cup. Shameful.
NZR cut off the other leg by its reluctance to build a proper waterfront stadium in Auckland and its fleecing of its dwindling crowds for a fast buck, a slow bag of cold chips and a bad pint. Why should English crowds pay to subsidise an organisation that has stuffed its own spectators..
The RFU have shelled out a sum on Twickenham over the past 35 years that is probably far north of a billion dollars, once you have adjusted for interest payments and today's values. Twickenham has a high-end hotel, localised Wi-Fi, TV screens on the concourses, LED screens, undersoil heating and irrigation and a capacity of 82,000.
Now if Tew and NZR want to contribute towards the cost of that rebuild, then maybe they might have one withered leg on which to precariously balance. But of course they are not going to. They can't afford to. And so their prior refusal to play England and the threat of more southern hemisphere tests (as if we aren't already sick to the back teeth from too much of it) if they don't get their way are both ludicrous.
And England are no better. Their sell-out to the clubs is in large way responsible for the rape of New Zealand talent and for jacking up salaries to a price that the southern hemisphere cannot afford. Now they see a lottery rollover in an All Blacks game and so are looking to screw the Barbarians over a matter of semantics.
Word is that the RFU agreed to a Barbarians game back in November to celebrate the club's 125th anniversary. Originally Australia were the prospective opponents because the All Blacks were still hawking themselves about. But when the Baa-Baas upped the price to a reported $3.5 million, the All Blacks were back in.
And to their shame the RFU, who have a board meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the matter, are prospectively using that to weasel out. You see, they only agreed to a game Barbarians game versus Australia, not New Zealand. The Barbarians management think the RFU have been "deceitful and underhand."
Caught in the middle of it all are the Barbarians. Forty-three years ago one of the greatest rugby matches in history was played out between two brilliant teams at Cardiff Arms Park. And now we have come to this. A squalid squabble over money between two countries who are morally bankrupt.
Eddie Jones says England are keen to play New Zealand and are "raring to go." Steve Hansen said people are "desperate" to see the two sides play, but they would need to "give us half the stadium (revenue) or something. That would be good, wouldn't it?"
Goodness has nothing to do with it. As Sir Clive Woodward said, "Wrong game, wrong time, wrong reasons." And in case Tew and Ritchie were wondering, three wrongs don't make a right.