RW reader Seb Belli rages at so-called wise old rugby men longing for the amateur days

Rugby Rant: Time to embrace professionalism

It’s the old boy down the pub reminiscing about Wales in the 1970s, wondering why “they can’t just express themselves”. An ex-player laughing
at modern diets compared to his old habits. Sometimes it’s just a family member saying the game’s gone soft.

The trouble with all of these criticisms is they’re a fantasy. It’s rose-tinted rugby where the good is loudly celebrated and any negatives are met with a mumbled “Well, yeah, some things have improved.”

The improvement in the quality of all sport over decades of professionalism is stark when you watch back more than the highlights. The modern workout regimen of amateurs would put some old pros to shame and you have players from an era of 10st wingers talking about people now being “soft”.

It’s similar to James Bond. After an initial attempt to modernise and make it more sexy in the 1990s, the 2000s saw a ‘full steam ahead’ approach advancing both Bond and rugby union, objectively improving both whilst being constantly derided by your dad and his mates who remember treasured individual stunts but not the hour and a bit either side of it. What’s survived is the gold, whether it’s cars spinning in the air or wonder tries.

“It’s rose-tinted rugby where the good is loudly celebrated and negatives mumbled about”

The announcements over successive lockdowns of delays to the latest Bond instalment saw some predictable social media reactions about the “old ones being better anyway”. With a few tweaks, the conversation could just as easily have been about rugby “back in the day”.

Professionalism in rugby union is still so new and while the strides made have been admirable, there’s plenty of time to go. We’re trapped in a situation where we’re looking at the advances of other sports in envy whilst afraid of resembling a 21st-century, dynamic, sellable sport.

Maybe we’re still in a Pierce Brosnan phase. Things being made more slick but still not quite at the endgame.

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The problems and potential solutions for rugby could fill 1,000 articles but the least the sport can do is ensure people pull in the right direction. What other sport endorses people in the game, at any level, decrying the modern state of it and wanting to send it back to amateurism?

The headstart other sports were granted by not being shackled to amateurism is a colossal hindrance (thank you old rugby blazer men) for which the game is still paying. Let’s not carry on placing exactly the same sort

of people’s opinion on a pedestal. Or at least make them watch full games from the 1960s, sober, before you ask them anything about this year’s Six Nations.

This feature first appeared in Rugby World in March.

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