The SIG Column - 13 November

28 Apr 2008

By: Sport Industry Group

The knives are out following England's loss but Drew Barrand, head of media at Sport Industry Group, argues that the RFU's annual financial report will be a more accurate pointer as to the governing body's performance...

'If you believed everything you read from this weekend’s post-mortem you could be forgiven for thinking that English rugby was staring into an abyss the like of which the sport’s hierarchy in this country has never seen before.

Phrases like ‘the darkest hour’, ‘the end of the world’, and ‘will the last one out please switch off the lights’ have been bandied around as if English rugby’s death toll had been rung and Twickenham was about to be swallowed into the ground.

Whenever an English national sports team endures a less than stellar sequence of results such as those currently being suffered by Andy Robinson’s men, the criticism seems to go into ridiculous levels of overdrive. English sports teams it seems can go from hero to zero quicker than the All Blacks amass a try count.

Putting aside such emotional extremism, the real verdict on the RFU’s current state of play will come later this week when English rugby’s governing body reveals its annual financial report.

A dip in form on the pitch can be explained away through any number of reasons. Take your pick from the retirements of many of the World Cup winners, appalling bad luck with injuries, or most people’s personal favourite that the talent simply isn’t there.

But in the three years since the World Cup win created a platform for growth the like of which the RFU will do well to see again in the current board’s lifetime, any dip in the body’s commercial performance cannot be excused as readily.

The oft-used argument that commercial performance is intrinsically linked to the results on the pitch has its merits but can only taken up to a certain point. Once a team has achieved a pinnacle of success, such as winning a World Cup, the level of public interest in that sporting property has been tweaked to such an extent that commercial growth for at least the next five years, if not longer, should be as good as guaranteed regardless of the results on the pitch.

Like its cricket counterpart did following last year’s Ashes win, the RFU laid out its plans post-World Cup to increase its revenues which could then be used to push forward participation levels in rugby. If the wheels have come off the juggernaut before England has even had chance to defend its trophy then serious questions will need to be answered. Failing to properly exploit the platform created in 2003 is a far more heinous crime against English rugby than the sum of the parts of the 7 straight defeats suffered by the current batch of men in white.

The heightened level of emotional reaction to the Argentina defeat is a direct result of the increased interest in the sport derived from the 2003 World Cup win. It shows the interest is still alive and well. If the RFU’s financial report doesn’t bring the much-needed injection of good news to Twickenham then the hyperbole headlines of the last two days will suddenly become meaningful.'