Pichot 'blow': Sanzaar own worst enemies?

2020-05-04 14:22
Agustin Pichot (Getty)

There was little surprise from yours truly when news broke that 68-year-old incumbent Bill Beaumont had won at the World Rugby polls for chairperson, ensuring a fresh tenure in the hotseat for the former England & British and Irish Lions captain.

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I did suggest in response to a reader's inquiry in last week's newsletter that I suspected the intended "modernising" or trumpeted "revolutionary shakeup" planned by the beaten contender, much younger Argentinean scrumhalf legend Agustin Pichot, would flounder in the face of vested interests and traditionalism ... plus the weightier money, no less influentially, on the northern side of the equator.

Make no mistake, a Pichot triumph would have been welcomed by the bigger powerhouses of the southern hemisphere (or read: the Sanzaar alliance), quite probably aiding a meaningful shift toward the "global season" concept.

But rugby is a strange animal, in the sense that while playing-field supremacy - at least in the premier terrain of the World Cup - has long resided in southern climes, with eight titles to one since inception in 1987, financial and institutional muscle is increasingly loaded in favour of the north, and Europe in particular.

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It is no coincidence, I staunchly believe, that the further we have journeyed in the professional era (the post-1995 landscape), the more the World Cup, just as an example, has moved toward hosting rights being in the northern hemisphere.

Whereas the first seven tournaments saw the fairest of splits - south, then north, every four years - the trend ended with England staging 2015, Japan getting 2019 and then France controversially elbowing out South Africa at the death to ensure a northern "hat-trick" in upcoming 2023.

Increasingly, too, the most celebrated, prime-of-career poster figures of the game are basing themselves in the more lucrative north - not something that will change in any hurry, considering tumultuous current world events.

Yes, Pichot getting a crack at the chairmanship would have been refreshing.

But a big part of me also can hardly blame the stubborn “turkeys” of the north (and significantly, still certain allies in southern parts, even if outside the Sanzaar frame) from voting the predictable way they did.

The integrity of rugby in the northern hemisphere, both at Test and club level, continues to eclipse its southern equivalent: the Six Nations has an enduring gravitas the Rugby Championship could only dream of for the very reason that its single-round annual format changes so desperately seldom, if at all, while the major leagues of, say, England and France, still have a healthier scent of legitimacy than eternally-tinkered-with Super Rugby.

As we were, then ... at least for a few more years.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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