by COLIN RENTON
IRFU Warns of Tougher Financial Future
The Irish Rugby Union (IRFU) posted a loss of €2.8 million for the year 2016-17, €1.9 million better than the projected figure. The original budget had been set to allow for higher funding of the four provinces in light of wage inflation, as well as investment in grassroots rugby and player development. While the overall picture remains positive and a return to breakeven levels is anticipated in 2018-19, some of the provinces are likely to make further losses and the IRFU treasurer Tom Grace has warned that tougher times lie ahead.
Tricky Times for Leigh No Pennies
Also on the subject of money, while wages continue to spiral ever higher in England and France, there are signs that clubs are giving more consideration to what they get for their outlay. Toulon were unhappy with the likely contribution of Leigh Halfpenny this coming year – late return after the Lions tour then release for autumn tests, a brief return in December then release for the Six Nations – and decided not to renew his contract, which was costing them more than £500,000 per annum. Both Wasps and Bath took a look at the Welshman’s demands and decided not to proceed. Halfpenny therefore has no club at present and it looks likely that he will rejoin one of the Welsh regions on a much-reduced income.
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Scottish Rugby reached agreement with Stade Nicois in May to send players needing game time or preparing for life as coaches to the fourth-tier French outfit. Murrayfield boss Mark Dodson was pictured on 3rd July meeting the Mediterranean city’s former mayor and candidate for re-election Christian Estrosi (would Dodson have been mingling with Sadiq Khan and cronies if the deal was with Saracens?).
Strange then that the Murrayfield press machine only leapt into action at the end of July – almost three months after the deal was struck – and posted a news story on the Scottish Rugby website after an enquiry regarding suggestions in the French media that a Scottish consortium was planning a takeover of Stade Nicois and the Scotland sevens team would be based there. Murrayfield mandarins are never usually slow to boast about their achievements so it does beg the question: if the Nice deal is so good for Scottish rugby, why the reluctance to make the news public?
Diving Deep to Prepare for the New Campaign
Coaches constantly seek new methods of preparing for the new season, whether that be commando training, killing rabbits (allegedly) or some other method. At Bordeaux-Begles, the club at which Scot Ben Chalmers helped land last season’s French Under-23 title before being released during the summer, a novel approach was a trip to a local swimming pool for a sub-aqua rugby session. As the video shows, it got physical at times, but it appears to have been a success.
Incidentally, Vern Cotter has taken his Montpellier squad to Font Romeu, scene of rabbit-gate, for their pre-season camp.
Spectator Numbers Down Down Under
These are not happy times for rugby union in Australia. Poor results in Super Rugby and in the international arena, including a defeat at the hands of Scotland, have caused a sharp decline in crowds and TV audiences. Over the past two years, spectator numbers have tumbled 28% from an average of 15,702 per match to 11,402 this season. Average TV numbers have fallen by 800,000 to 1.87 million. Of the Australian franchises, only Western Force has recorded an increase in supporter numbers.
On Tour Wi’t Lions
And finally, with the British & Irish Lions tour and all the associated controversy now fading, a glance back at one of the many anti-haka performances, this time from a group of supporters from Yorkshire –