LARRY RYAN: Still time for Rugby Country to make that call

Acloud of confusion settled over Rugby Country this week, its people truly baffled by the notion of choosing somebody for a job purely on merit.

An alien idea that runs contrary to the principles on which Rugby Country has been built.

We had been told all would be well with the World Cup bid, not to worry our little heads about the details. Small things such as grounds that needed rebuilding or even grounds that needed building.

We were promised “the unique ethos of Rugby (capital R for a state of mind) will be the cornerstone of the tournament’s success”.

Admittedly, we are used to grand promises ahead of Rugby World Cups, promises that don’t tend to be delivered upon.

But this was different. We were told that Rugby Country had got this, that things would proceed along the traditional lines in which it had vast experience.

Favours would be called in. Essentially, we were assured that we knew somebody’s old man.

And then World Rugby’s technical review committee, with its wooly ideas about merit and suitability, released their findings.

They came along with their checklists and their box ticking and their transparency; all petty enemies of the what-school-did-you-go-to ethos that made the game great.

And already we begin to
calculate what might be lost.

“A legacy for rugby and rugby values,” we were promised, after 2023.

If denied this, we now fear it could be decades yet before everybody in the pub shushes for the kickers.

It is a blow too to the circulation of impenetrable jargon for rudimentary acts, to popularising the description of heavy men falling on top of one another as “getting the latches right”.

And there is the small matter of the €1.5bn ‘economic impact’ Irish Rugby’s ‘lead advisor’ Deloitte tells us we will miss out on.

Though there is always a consultant willing to justify the generous outlay of taxpayers’ money.

We recall the 1990s proposal to bring an Olympics to Dublin — which would have entailed rebuilding virtually all the country’s infrastructure — was deemed cost-effective in a Price Waterhouse report.

And we remember more recently how our top top accountants signed off happily as the whole place went down the toilet.

Indeed, a closer look at the World Cup bid paraphernalia reveals some of the work practices that have made consultancy great.

“Three in every four Irish people are supporters of rugby,” boasts an infographic on the Deloitte website.

That wildly outstrips even the proudest claim on Irish Rugby’s official bid site: “56% of Irish people describe themselves as rugby fans.”

Though there may be a clue deeper in the page as to where Deloitte generated their figure: “76% of Irish people can name a favourite rugby personality.”

Evidently, the accepted accounting measure of true sporting passion.

In a nod to better times when transparency wasn’t so prized, the bid website also runs with the claim that “Ireland now boasts the highest percentage of rugby fans anywhere in the world.”

Curiously, a thorough survey of rugby’s global fanbase, published by international research firm SMG Insight in 2013, put Ireland’s support for rugby at 28%, compared with, say, 63% in New Zealand. Though in the critical ‘High income earners who like rugby’ category, Ireland closed that gap to 68-52.

Incidentally, despite the game’s current ‘attrition rate’ and ‘collision focus’, there appears to be no assessment anywhere of additional cost to the health service if, as was promised, “Ireland 2023 will drive the growth of the game in all its forms”.

The most important thing is that, as IRFU chief Philip Browne giddily put it earlier this year, “the government has actually underwritten the entire cost of the tournament”.

So when the time is right, this could undoubtedly be sold as a World Cup for people who get up early in the morning.

Alas, the word now is that the technical committee have not been charmed by our ‘intangibles’, instead getting all pernickety over the lack of Wifi and the revelation that Killarney “is not sizeable”.

There must be a danger now that rugby balls in the Kingdom will encounter the same deflationary effects suffered by The Bridgestone Guide after it famously deemed Killarney “best seen through a rear-view mirror’’.

There is no accounting for the taste of gourmands and international rugby men. But fortunately, this is a game of two halves.

“First round in rugby World Cup bid to South Africa!” tweeted sports minister Shane Ross. “Far from over. Ireland squad already togging out for second half and win on Nov 15.”

Perhaps only a politician — whose minds tend to focus as the next election closes in — could consider it acceptable to tog out for any contest at half-time.

But thankfully, we will be on happier hunting ground in the second half, when the voting takes place.

We are back in a game, much like rugby itself, where nobody knows the rules.

“That part was transparent, the next part isn’t,” was how Keith Wood put it, on Off The Ball

.

“There will be an awful lot of conversations and relying on old friends.”

The way things used to get done. Time to put in that call to somebody’s old man.


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