The Wooden Spoon Rugby World Yearbook never disappoints and the 2018 edition contains the customary blend of features, comment and review in 160 stylish pages.
Arguably the most interesting article is a look at the ‘perfect storm’ that led to Australian rugby hitting such a low ebb. A leading market research company concluded that rugby union had fallen to the 26th most popular sport in the country, with participation levels similar to ballroom dancing!
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If that sounds hard to believe, the drain at community level is indisputable. Youngsters are increasingly opting to play other codes and the ARU’s launch of a Game On primary school programme and the ‘tackleless’ VIVA7s hasn’t appeased all.
Brett Papworth represented a band of former Wallabies who raged against the funding imbalance between the elite level of the game and the grass roots, as illustrated by the reported $750,000 being paid to David Pocock in his sabbatical year.
Raechelle Inman provides that story and elsewhere Chris Foy makes the case for Six Nations reform after Georgia’s steady progress over the past decade.
“Rugby’s in Georgia’s psyche. These guys are warriors,” says national coach Milton Haig. “Playing in the Six Nations would be the signal that Georgia, finally, have stepped out of the shadow of their big brother, Russia, to stand on the world stage by themselves.”
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Do Italy deserve to be relegated? Your heart would bleed for Sergio Parisse, the 34-year-old set to overtake Brian O’Driscoll (84 Tests) and John Smit (83) in the all-time captaincy stakes this season. The No 8 has led the Azzurri 81 times and his value is summed up by coach Conor O’Shea in Mick Cleary’s tribute to Parisse.
“What is Sergio’s legacy to the jersey?” muses O’Shea. “If a greater player than him ever pulls on the Italian shirt, we will have the best player who has ever played the game.”
A history of Czech rugby, an interview with Katy Mclean and a look at the swelling number of fathers and sons making an impact in the pro game are other worthy features, while there’s also a pat on the back for John Ireland, whose delightful caricatures adorned the yearbook’s pages from 2002 right up until his recent retirement.
The home unions’ summer tours follow, along with reviews of all the major European competitions in 2016-17, and editor Ian Robertson chooses his ‘key players’ for the 2018 Six Nations. It’s a hazardous task, as Camille Lopez’s horrific injury and John Hardie’s suspension for alleged cocaine use demonstrate.
The Wooden Spoon Rugby World Yearbook 2018 is published by Lennard, RRP £20, but this year they’ve excelled themselves because it comes shrink-wrapped with a 32-page Lions supplement called Stride for Stride.
The supplement charts the dramatic drawn series in New Zealand last summer and pulls no punches when delivering its verdict on the Lions’ future.
Discussing the proposal to reduce the 2021 tour to South Africa to eight matches to ease fixture congestion, Cleary writes: “If that does come into play, it will be the death knell of Lions tours. It beggars belief that anyone would want to put in jeopardy such a success story as the Lions.”
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Royalties from the book go to the Wooden Spoon rugby charity that has raised millions for disadvantaged children and young people.