It's a blight on the game when the premier talent of rugby cannot be exposed to the lower levels for both the development of the next tier of the game, and for the benefit of the spectators.
In any code, teams are prepared to pay exorbitant sums for the best players. Through increased crowd attendances, higher sales of merchandise, attraction of more lucrative sponsorship; and of course, the ultimate on-field success, untold financial benefits await.
It also allows for the further development of the players and the team itself. If a team of young players has a superstar on their books, ego’s aside, there is significant benefit to having a master pass on their craft.
Take Perpignan, for example. They reported that Dan Carter has spent considerable time with the team’s players, including participating in coaching sessions with the French club's three quarters.
This is as valuable to the team as actual playing time.
This is also relevant to the respective unions. The Air New Zealand and Currie Cup competitions, the two premier domestic competitions in the southern hemisphere, are far stronger with their test players in the mix. Quality and, indeed, viewing figures suffer dramatically when they are not.
Many believe that the reason for viewing and spectator disinterest in the Air New Zealand Cup has been due to the “protection” of top level players due to All Black duty.
Irrespective of availability, cotton wooling such players can have a far more negative effect than the actual recovery that might be given to such an individual.
But often we find perplexing or unjustifiable decisions that are allowed to pass, that ultimately cause teams and the game to suffer.
In South Africa, the Namibian Invitation team has had its requests denied by the Sharks, Cheetahs and Western Province for release of certain players.
These sides have cited that they require their players to be in training for upcoming Lions matches.
Why on earth would SARU allow this?
Would they not want their Springboks to play a strong as possible Namibian team considering that this will be their only match before such a high profile test series against the Lions?
Furthermore, would it not benefit the Namibian players and Namibian rugby union to have high profile players intermixed with their coaching and playing set up?
Thankfully some sanity has prevailed, and the Bulls will be releasing Jaco van der Westhuizen, Derick Hougaard, Wayne Julies, Marco Wentzel and Danie Coetzee – all Springbok representatives.
In Australia, it is even worse.
Blaming financial issues, the ARU cancelled a plethora of programs, including their new domestic competition and the Australia A team.
The ARC, beyond other reasons, was doomed to failure for a simple factor—it was initiated in 2007, when the Wallabies were unavailable to compete in the competition. As a consequence its quality was diluted, numbers were poor, and eventually it became unsustainable.
Despite the fact that it was finally exposing the next tier of players to higher level competition, as well as the general public.
With Australia A, it is an issue because the players essentially ranked 31-60 in Australian rugby (outside the Wallaby squad) will not get quality game time or exposure.
As a result, the Australian public suffers, and will not see such players outside of Super 14 matches. That is unless these players are released by their Super 14 sides to appear in club rugby.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
In NSW, this has reared its ugly head, as the NSWRU has appeared to have caused issues with the release of Waratahs players for club rugby.
The collective bargaining agreement is said to be at fault here, but the reality is that the genuine issue will be hidden by different bodies who have conflicting opinions (he said, they said).
The release of such players to their clubs for Shute Shield matches would only benefit the competition, the fans, and ultimately the players themselves.
Multiple clubs are complaining that there are inconsistencies with player releases, which affects the standard of competition.
Queensland or New South Wales club competitions could be significantly enhanced with the consistent introduction of Super 14 or test quality players.
Protection from injuries or the “insurance” of an investment sometimes just needs to be put aside, for the good of all involved.
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