Rugbydump columnist Ross Skeate unfortunately picked up an injury while playing for Toulon in the Top 14 recently. Ross is back writing for RD though, with his unique take on the life of a professional rugby player. The Beatles, Playboy, and taking over the world are the topics of discussion this week.
This aching knee! "Storms a comin’!" After the niggle I picked up playing against Montauban - a game we won at home with the highlight being my cross-kick into Chris Loamanu’s hands (impressed Tana?) - putting my body on the line every weekend, I do honestly wonder sometimes if the pay is worth the Zimmer frame and chronic arthritis that old age promises me?
After all there sure is some big money around the sport at the moment!
I mean there are a few big names out there and they seem to be raking in a lot of cash. Take me for example; I’m demanding 1.2 million Euro a year from our club owner Mourad Boudjellal - he didn’t seem too impressed when I brought it up but I sent him a bouquet of flowers and a Playboy and I’m thinking he’ll definitely warm up to the idea.
But never mind that, this ‘new professional era
,’ as the kids are calling it, seems to be moving in a very interesting direction indeed.
With the IRB at the helm and rapidly expanding the game into all corners of the globe, even rugby Sevens has finally been accepted as an Olympic sport, thus pushing the code (both the 15-man version and its younger brother, 7’s) further into the limelight and arcing towards new heights of popularity and professionalism.
Some people have been talking about the game dying, and yes, there has been a lot of kicking lately (especially here in France) but those are just smaller details that in my experience have not detracted from the widespread appeal of the game.
Sure, there are the obvious questions about just how far the game shall extend, with relation to some confusing rules (ruck ball as an example although I think the refs are at as much of a loss as we the players are) and the contact element (which seems to be attracting people to it rather than vice-versa). That is in stark contrast to a relatively easily played and understood sport like soccer, or football, depending on your preference.
In some sense I do agree, but the steady expansion of the game seems to speak of other things entirely. Perhaps it’s a social economic thing or maybe just a social thing. But either way, the expansion is good for the economics. See what I did there?
Recent years have seen the Japanese league takeoff, the expansion of the game into African countries as well as Asian and Southern American territories.
Certainly cultures like New Zealand and South Africa will always treat the sport with an almost religious quality and if you could experience the kind of fanatical support that Toulon is famous for, you could argue that it is as much a religion here as places like Pretoria and Christchurch.
The recent performances of an extremely competent Kenyan side on the Sevens circuit as well as the growth of the game in the Russian Federation all points to the same thing - world domination.
That’s what it’s all about isn’t it, trying to take over the world? Whether you’re the Illuminati, The Beatles, Chuck Norris or Simon Cowell, it’s all about world domination. Bigger is certainly better and with the growth of the game at world level, the growing interest of the viewing public with subsequent demands for more viewing material and thus more television sees sponsorships and money come rolling into the game.
Allowing further resources to not only maintain that development of the sport and support of the game in ‘younger’ rugby playing countries but also increase the size of the world stages that the main event is staged on, ie: the Rugby World Cup, the flagship event of the rugby world and the stage where all others flow from, whether it be the Six Nations, Tri-Nations, Heineken Cup, Super 14, or Top 14.
It’s from these tournaments that the true stars of the sport are born and careers have been made. The best and most recent examples would be individuals with the Rockstar status of guys like Jonny Wilkinson, Sabastien Chabal, Jerry Collins, BOD and myself (erm, not).
Individuals who have gained such widespread appeal as sporting brands first and rugby players second, that they’re used to sell products as far reaching as fragrances to shower gels. I still find it a little strange when I see large posters of Chabal, hair all straightened and finely dressed, for some men’s fragrance. He does look ruggedly handsome though.
But what does this all mean for the future?
With rugby stars taking on new levels of celebrity and the game marching towards global appeal the sport shall slowly move towards the same heights as other professional codes such as soccer (again up to you), American football (I know it’s an American game but it’s popularity can’t be argued with) and basketball, to name a few.
I have no doubt that rugby will continue to aspire to those heights, and reach them.
As for the players? Expect bigger salaries, more professionalism and bigger stars of the future – oh, the phone’s ringing so better run, fingers crossed it’s Mourad!
Hope this finds you all well.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Ross, who's played for the Stormers and the Barbarians, has a really interesting website that features plenty of behind the scenes photos, podcasts, and latest news on life with Toulon.
We'll hear back from him soon, but until then, check out www.RossSkeate.com.