Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Memo to Gareth

November 15, 2006

Where to start...?

Yesterday former Canadian international legend Gareth Rees appeared in studio on the Rugby Report at The Score's international sports program Sportsworld.

Now, if Rees was simply a guest, I'd give him a free pass. But Rees is currently Sportsworld's resident rugby analyst, and he's also the former CEO of Rugby Canada, so let's set some issues straight.

Rees told host James Sharman that he thinks Argentina should be in the Tri-Nations, saying New Zealand and Australia are their "natural rivals." Rees didn't spell it out, but the gyst of his comments suggested South Africa should walk the plank. He then started repeating wild speculation about the NZRU double-crossing the Argentine RFU over some sort of secret horse-trading deal for the RWC 2011 vote. Rees also commented about the unavailability of some Canadian international players due to restrictions by their professional clubs.

Several threads are connected here, so let's try to sort them out.

Contrary to Rees' assertion, Argentina doesn't have historic athletic rivalries with NZ or Australia. Whereas South Africa is NZ's biggest rugby rival ever and Australia has been NZ's greatest foe for the past 25 years. Argentina doesn't come close to those rivalries. There is no natural or cultural or historic rivalry.

Then there's geography.

Quad Nations

Pay particular attention to the big blue patches called the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Tasman Sea and Indian Ocean. Take note of the distances and time-zones.

South Africans are always complaining that the vast distance and time-zone differences are a big reason why the Springboks fare so poorly in the Tri-Nations, and blame these same factors for the seasonal humiliation of South Africa's Super 14 franchises. How is Argentina going to change any of that? A flight from Sydney to Buenos Aires takes 20 hours. I don't want to belabor the points that I have already made here, here and here, but a Quad Nations is like having an annual home-and-away sports tournament from India to Alaska.

Then there's the fact that the Argentine RFU is in terrible financial shape.

But the thing that had me pulling out the last remaining hairs in my head was the question, what in the name of the development of rugby in the Americas is Gareth Rees doing undermining all the good work that is being down RIGHT NOW to grow the sport in Canada and the United States??!?

Last month Stephen Jones of The Times (UK) wrote an extensive profile of the new head of USA Rugby Kevin Roberts and the future of rugby in the United States. Jones writes:

"[Roberts] wants to start a professional rugby set-up in the country, with four regional teams, plus their own academies springing from the IRB grant, with a real prospect of a new Tri-Nations involving Canada, improving rapidly with their own IRB grant, and Argentina; plus a Super 12 with four teams from each country, growing from the existing NA4 event. "

(Note: Read the full story. The Times pulls down their features after several weeks; if that link doesn't work, here's a back-up.)

There it is. A perfect remedy for Argentina -- and us! The Americas is a "natural" rivalry. We play in the same time zones. Despite the hemisphere differences, all three nations play their international test schedules at the same time of year, and all the professional players contracted to European clubs are available for international duty. According to IRB computer rankings, the gulf between Canada & USA with Argentina is smaller than the gulf between Argentina and NZ. When the sport grows in the Americas, watch Uruguay insist to be a part of an Americas 4N the way Argentina wants passage into a SANZAR 4N. Uruguay would be a truly natural rival (and they are the same 15 points beneath Argentina that Argentina is beneath NZ in the IRB's statistical computer rankings).

As far as the gossip about the NZRU secretly offering a SANZAR berth to Argentina in exchange for a RWC 2011 vote, it's absurd on its face. Even if NZ did make the offer -- and there is no evidence they ever did -- Australia and South Africa, being 2/3rds of SANZAR, would have to make the same offer.

There was gossip circulating at the time of the RWC vote that the NZRU offered Argentina a test match, which may well have betrayed the regulations and ethics of the vote. If this secret deal was hatched, it's a promise the NZRU could guarantee. But there's no way they could guarantee a promise of SANZAR membership, and no mention of a Tri-Nations berth was even floated until many months after the fact by imaginative conspiracy theorists. This rumour has been put to bed as lacking credibility, but Rees can't let go of it. There are many people in the rugby community still wearing tin-foil hats and insisting that Japan deserved the RWC 2011 hosting rights simply for showing up; and seem to believe that NZ's vastly superior bid with government guarantees and attended by a sitting Prime Minister, only won the IRB votes through subterfuge. Gareth, it's gotten embarrassing. Move on.

Then previewing Canada's up-coming test match against Wales, Gareth lamented that some of Canada's best players (Jamie Cudmore, Rod Snow and Mike James) are unavailble due to restrictions by their European clubs.

To be fair, Rees conceeded he didn't know all the rules. So here they are, IRB Regulation 9.


9.1 A Union has first and last call upon the availability of a Player for selection and appearances for a National Representative Team or National Squad of that Union and all attendances associated therewith, including training sessions.

9.2 Subject to Regulation 9.5 below no Union, Association, Rugby Body or Club whether by contract or otherwise may inhibit, prevent or render unavailable any player from selection, attendance and appearance in a National Representative Team or National Squad, including training sessions, and any Player must be released upon request by his Union.

9.3 No Union, Association, Rugby Body or Club may require any payment or other benefit from or impose conditions relating to a Player’s participation in a National Representative Team or National Squad of his Union.

9.4 When a Player is selected by a Union to appear in a National Representative Team or attend a National Squad session or participate in associated activities, (including training sessions), if the Player is unable or unwilling to appear, attend and/or participate, then he shall not be entitled to play for a Rugby Body or Club for the period for which he has been, or should have been in attendance with the National Representative Team or National Squad, plus an additional 10 days thereafter, unless the Player’s Union agrees otherwise in writing.



1. Introduction

Unions, Associations, Clubs or Rugby Bodies may not render players unavailable for (or attempt to render them unavailable), and are not entitled to impose conditions on, a player(s) availability to play, train or engage in, associated activities for their National representative Team or National Squad. Such conditions, including, but not limited to, the payment of insurance premiums, would inhibit, and in some cases prevent Unions or Associations, from selecting their best squad for International Matches or having access to their full squad for training and development work. If a National Representative Team is unable to select its best team for International Matches or build/develop team spirit and game strategies in National Squad sessions, the quality and integrity of International Rugby Union would be undermined. This would threaten the future development and extension of the Game at all levels to the detriment of all IRB members. Unions, therefore, are required to rigorously enforce Regulation 9.

The fines and penalties for violating these regulations can be found here.

It's a rule Pacific Islanders rugby head coach Pat Lam knows all about:

British clubs up to their old tricks


"There was a lot of pressure put on the guys," said Lam.

"In fact, if it wasn't for article 9.4 (an IRB regulation covering release of international players) then the tour would have been cancelled.

"The regulations state that any club persuading a player not to appear for his country will lose the player for the duration of the tour, plus ten more days.

"They might as well lose the guys for three weeks to us, rather than for five weeks to a ban", he concluded.

Gareth, we luvs ya. You're on the shortest of short-lists for Greatest Canadian Rugby Player Ever, and continue to be a fantastic ambassador for the sport. But please stick to the available facts. It is counter-productive repeating gossip and speculation about the NZRU when we would be much better off talking about the rules governing Canada not fronting their best starting XV in the international arena. Canada is getting screwed here -- let's talk about that. And please stop using your shoulder to lift up Argentina's pipe-dream of SANZAR admission and focus instead on growing the sport in the Americas. The new Rugby USA head wants a Tri-Nations and S12 comp in our part of the world -- in our time zones. Let's concentrate on that instead of kneecapping ourselves and talking-up Argentina playing in Oceania and Africa. Let's look to our own back yard. Peace.

[UPDATE:] FWIW, I just grabbed this off a comments board at TSF:

Re: Wales team vs Canada and likely team to play NZ
« Reply #27 on: Today at 04:51:11 PM »

Quote from: Dai on Today at 09:44:17 AM

"That's very odd. The IRB says quite clearly that players must either be available for their country, including training sessions, or not play at all that week. It's a joke that sides like Canada don't always have access to their better players when they play full strength teams who are better than them anyway. If Wales can force Worcester to release Horsman, I don't see why Canada can't do the same. Maybe it's a case of not wanting to rock the boat. Shame."

Gwyn replies:

"When interviewed on a Welsh rugby magazine programme on Monday night, Geraint John was well aware of the IRB regulations but has made some form of deal whereby Canada are guaranteed their French players at the end of the season, i.e. outside any 'window', in order for them to attend the start of their pre-cup build up campaign in exchange for limited access to the players for the AIs [Autumn internationals]."

This might explain the "Wales-only" appended to a few of the players in the Canadian squad (see earlier threads below).


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