THERE are incredulous conversations in most rugby circles on how England managed to lumber their team with such a crazy timetable in the coming New Zealand tour. It is right and proper that the Stuart Lancaster should come out with what he is saying; there will be no excuses by the squad and whatever the first selected team is, it will be England and will compete as such.
His public utterances may well vary slightly from what he believes privately, for this is going to be a logistic mess. An international fixture, especially against the world leaders in their own back yard, must surely never be compromised. Yet we will have a skeleton side to begin the series while many of the main men are still knocking lumps out of each other at home.
Of course professional rugby needs funds, but the playoffs after a tough season of attrition is simply taking more crushing performances from already tired players who need some time building sandcastles with their family. The fact that they are professionals does not turn them into supermen who can perform for ever and ever.
There was a school of thought that suggested that the New Zealand alickadoos might alter their season and delay the England dates for a week or so. You can just see the Kiwi committeemen rushing to do that and they probably came back with a hasty, “Good idea, but why don’t you restructure your own end of season to allow the players a bit of rest?”
Sadly it is the players who will take the pain and the people who arranged the forthcoming schedule will remain anonymous and, hopefully, forgotten. Lancaster (inset) will remain stoically resilient, but he will know deep down that he has been dealt a lousy card. And the other players at the table know which cards he is holding.
Gloucester do not come out squeaky-clean in this area and we can but ask why on earth the club went to Saracens last week. After the turmoil and fall-out from Nigel Davies’ sacking alongside the thoughts of an awful season with attendant injuries, the last thing the players needed was a trip to the Honourable Artillery Company’s ground to tackle what was essentially an Academy team.
The pitch is probably the most expensive bit of rugby club real estate in the world and loyal supporters may have some justification in thinking they were buying it with tickets priced at £50 to sit in a temporary stand.
The hosts would have been champing at the bit. Their main squad is on the crest of rugby’s wave and these young bloods would be up for anything to prove themselves. Gloucester, in contrast, were down and out and needed this like a hole in the head. But, because they are professionals, they went and ‘lambs to the slaughter’ is a phrase that comes to mind.
The justification for the game has to be financial and one can but hope that the haul was worth the effort. Many loyal fans went to the match because that is what loyal fans do, but this was probably a game too far and the only winners in sporting terms, were the Saracens youngsters.