Scott Fardy: Game needs to become more professional
Two incidents will ensure Leinster’s trek to South Africa remains memorable
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster: “In terms of the Cheetahs game, we would have brought more physicality than we did bring.” Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
A reasonable demand by Scott Fardy; the governance of rugby union, 22 years after shedding its amateur cloak, needs to be more professional.
Leinster’s former Wallaby flanker spent a season with the Western Force in 2008.
“Aw, it’s a real shame,” said Fardy of the Australian franchise’s dissolution after being cut loose by Super Rugby along with the Southern Kings and Free State Cheetahs.
“I spent a year there when I was younger so I know people in Perth love the game. It’s a shame it got to that, but you got to really be careful with over-expansion and trying to touch everyone, trying to get too far out in the world too quickly.”
That concern, in a Pro 14 context, was slightly allayed this past weekend by the Cheetahs 38-19 victory over Leinster in Bloemfontein.
“I think [the Force] are paying the price for Sanzaar’s poor management of the competition over a number of years,” said Fardy. “Teams like the Force, Southern Kings and Cheetahs, and the players and fans from these places, are paying the price for what people have done well above them. It shouldn’t have happened that way.
“Hopefully 10 years down the track we are not having the same conversations about the same things, and the game catches up and becomes more professional on the governance side of it. Whether that be judiciary, organisationally, everything like that – the game needs to become more professional.”
As Leinster’s calamitous South Africa tour highlighted, rugby’s current structures appear jumbled at best. The bones of the squad only arrived home Monday morning despite losing to the Cheetahs on Friday night.
Two incidents ensure the trek will be forever memorable; club captain Isa Nacewa and Jamison Gibson-Park, both New Zealand citizens, were sent back to Dublin on arrival at Johannesburg airport as they did not have the correct visas. A few days later Cian Healy was removed from an internal flight.
“So that was an incident with the stewardess,” explained senior coach Stuart Lancaster on Monday. “They are very stringent and insistent on lap tops, phones and everything being off. Cian was watching the game [versus the Southern Kings] with his headphones on, he missed the call, and she basically said you have ignored my instructions and the captain said we need to stop the flight and that was it really.
“So, it was an avoidable one,” Lancaster conceded, before adding: “Certainly it wasn’t a case of Cian being disrespectful or disruptive.”
The former England coach returned to base before the squad journeyed to Bloemfontein to ensure Leinster’s quintet of Lions – Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Sean O’Brien, Robbie Henshaw and Johnny Sexton – along with Devin Toner and Fardy, both missed the tour due to expecting wives, are primed for Edinburgh’s visit to the RDS on Friday.
All told, Leinster are bearing the brunt of negative connotations associated with the financial injection that led to the Southern Kings and Cheetahs being added to a rapidly expanded Pro 14.
“From the Pro 14’s view it is probably an opportunity they couldn’t miss as the Kings would have disappeared completely, but my recommendation would be to make sure the conference system remains clear and competitive for everyone [unlike the convoluted Super Rugby structures] so we can see who is top of the table and how the play-offs systems works.
“Part of the challenge for Leinster at the time was we found out late notice,” said Lancaster. “To be fair we had a lot of handicaps other clubs won’t have because we had to go out early. We would obviously try to get everyone on the same flight for a start. We would have looked into everyone’s visas and avoided that situation.
“In an ideal world we would have taken all our best players. The reality is Scott Fardy’s wife is due, Dev Toner’s wife has just given birth, there are five British and Irish Lions not available, Dan Leavy got injured, Richardt Strauss [knee] is not available.
“You want to take your strongest team to South Africa, and in terms of the actual preparation leading into the Kings game I thought it was well managed. It was a difficult environment to play in with so few people in a massive stadium but we got the job done.
“I came back early, which wouldn’t be an ideal scenario, but the Lions players were unavailable and somebody’s got to look after the players back here.
“In terms of the Cheetahs game, we would have brought more physicality than we did bring. We certainly impressed that on the players, but from the outside looking in – watching on TV at home – we lost the collisions against an experienced and physical team up in Bloemfontein.
“You could talk about altitude but we finished stronger. We deservedly got beaten.”
An ongoing concern for Lancaster and Leinster is Jamie Heaslip. The heretofore unbreakable number eight has not played rugby since pulling up in the warm-up before Ireland played England last March. Complications surrounding an undefined back problem means there is no date for the 33-year-old’s return.
“It is the not-knowing that is frustrating for him,” said Lancaster. “It is an injury in the back that you don’t want to take any risks with, so we want to make sure he is 100 per cent right before he comes back. But he will be back.”