Clubs gamble on pro future
IT is financially unsound to bet on something you know little about as I found to my cost last weekend when backing Scotland to beat England in the Five Nations.
The bet involved receiving a 14-point start for the Scots but rosy hopes of a return on the investment at half-time disappeared in a glorious six-minute spell for England in the second half.
Salt was rubbed into the financial wound when the English proceeded to run up a score not equalled since 1907 against France. If you're going to get something wrong, there's nothing like really doing it in style.
Inured to the slings and arrows of betting misfortune, it was not difficult to appreciate that we were watching a very good England team in action with former captain, Will Carling, clearly relishing the playing duties minus the leadership responsibilities.
From a nationalistic point of view, the result of the game in Cardiff on the same day was cause for a smile but begged the inevitable question as to why the money was not placed on the Irish, who have such a fine record away to Wales.
After all, the odds were much the same - even a trifle better - by obtaining a 14-point advantage on the Irish. Two factors mitigated against this wager: putting your money where your heart lies and watching the action unfold on television.
Too many times has the hard-earned disappeared on a green shirt and the only lure I have ever really seen to television is being able to watch live sporting action on it. Knowing that I could flick between Twickenham and Elland Road - the latter venue failed increasingly to figure as a dreadfully dour game between Leeds United and Arsenal unfolded - the money went on Scotland.
And full marks to England with the best Scottish effort coming from the fans singing 'Flower of Scotland' before the kick-off. The Scots weren't at the same game in the final stages of it.
The Five Nations, as has been mentioned here before, is a fine tournament and was thankfully saved after the English Rugby Football Union recanted on a vastly lucrative television deal which would have sabotaged the event.
There seems little doubt that, Wales, Ireland and France notwithstanding, England will sweep to total success in the Five Nations this season. But how long will their dominance last when the sport, now professional, is recruiting some of the best players from around the globe? It is hard to get away from the idea of rugby at the highest English club level still being a game played for enjoyment and not necessarily money. That professionalism will raise the level of playing cannot be questioned.
It stands to simple reason that a higher degree of physical fitness will pay dividends.
But club owners paying out wages and needing crowds to sustain the necessary income, are not going to be motivated by patriotism. Increasingly, the best available players from anywhere will be lured to England's shores as is already happening.
When clubs like Bath, Leicester and Harlequins are turning out teams with 30 to 40 per cent of non-English players in the side, then there must surely be a knock-on effect on the national team. In key positions, younger English players may not be getting the chance to come through.
In football, English players who do survive in the top teams in a Premier League dominated by foreigners will enhance the national team. And there are enough English players around to ensure England have a team capable of competing with Italy at Wembley next week.
In football, this has evolved over a period of time but it has been suddenly thrust on rugby.
Given time, there seems no logical reason why the same scenario should not apply to the oval ball code - but short-term, even with last Saturday's stunning result against Scotland, it may suffer.
Still, there is no turning back. Rugby has embraced professionalism and it can only be for the good of the game.