As the RWC looms large teams seem to be panicking. Players have been jumping on and off the Rugby Union merry-go-round as Glasgow sign up 6 players and Edinburgh only produce rumours of past players rejoining.
Warriors have signed 2 club players, 2 Irish pro players no longer needed by their province, a young English prop and a young Welsh loanee. Only 2 are Scots qualified. Edinburgh are alleged to be discussing the return of hooker Stevie Lawrie, are meant to be getting a Kiwi second-row from Connacht and have given Matt Scott (a 10) an Elite Development Contract alongside Currie teammate Brown, who is full-time. At least 8 players have left.
Meanwhile, all over the rest of the rugby world, strange things are happening. Smokin’ Joe Rokocoko is joining Bayonne, Willie Mason is quitting League to sign for Toulon, the Dragons have released 16 players, Henson is getting punted from Toulon, Steffan Armitage signs for Toulon, Sale snap up whoever’s free (and not off to Toulon), and Hook, Byrne, Holah, Mitchell and Collins leave the Ospreys. Oh, and Giteau is off to Toulon.
The most interesting development, however is that New Zealand have burst the bank convincing superstars Carter and McCaw to stay in NZ.
This got me thinking: would it be financially unrealistic to take a gamble?
By gamble I don’t mean signing a player who is going to win a world cup final, or a marquee name costing the SRU the earth. Most of those guys that are available are off to France, anyway. No, what I mean by gamble is throwing caution to the wind for ‘a risk’. Risk some money and a squad place on someone new, exciting, potentially dangerous but also able to pull in a crowd.
Look at the career ‘King’ Carlos Spencer had when he came to Britain: not the most reliable every single game but he could create something beautiful out of nothing and he certainly sold tickets with his persona. In turn Brendan Laney wasn’t brilliant but he generated some hype and even when people came to say “he’s overrated” they still came. Advertising thrives on such people.
Even looking at the summer scramble for signatures the signing of Willie Mason at Toulon is a demonstration of such a risk. Volatile and with a poor reputation Toulon are still willing to create a squad place for Mason because he can draw a crowd (either to laugh, applaud or, as is most likely in partisan France, Both).
Sure Toulon can afford that spot because they have an embarrassment of riches, on the paddock and in the vault. A club like Edinburgh, though, needs the risk because they can’t really get much worse. Stagnation is the true killer in professional sport.
So who is a likely risk?
Well Henson is such a character, and is free.
He may want a hefty wage packet, but he must now be worried that he has made a fool of himself for too long, he needs stability and Edinburgh is still a big enough city for Henson’s personal adventures. Maybe, though, he is too full of himself to re-enter the ML.
So perhaps it is time, again, to look outside the box. Or even just outside of Union. Danny Brough is Scots qualified, has captained Scotland (and highly regarded enough by the English media to ask why they did not pick him), can kick goals and plays in a physical arena every week in Super League. He would surely be a gamble.
The system of contracts in SL is an unknown and the amount of money needed to attract such a name is unquantifiable, though. If Edinburgh (read: SRU) had that kind of money, maybe they would want a financial risk like Perpignan took on Carter (but on a much smaller scale). Stephen Brett hasn’t always started in NZ and is a frightfully talented individual. The lure of Heineken Cup could work for Brett. This could also be used to persuade a second-row like monster Maori cap Hayden Triggs, as both players look set to never be All Blacks.
Also Kiwi Willie Ripia has declared himself for Australia but is unlikely to be used by them. The same goes for Lions captain and second-row Franco Van der Merwe who isn’t anywhere near the ‘Boks 51 man RWC training squad. The Heineken Cup would certainly appeal to such ambitious players.
In the end though, it seems that Glasgow may soon cease searching for signings and Edinburgh would rather go for unattached players from the lower leagues in England or that have played in the ML. Anything further afield could be deemed too much of a gamble.
I love seeing club players get their chance, but it isn’t feasible to compete like Scotland’s 2 should if they don’t also sign proven stars. On top of this the SRU appear to be advertising the Edinburgh Sevens as if the World is soon to end. If the clubs themselves could generate similar buzz purely by having an unexpected name in their ranks the SRU would have a much easier job.
Is Bradley the kind of guy who takes risks? Would he even be allowed?
Either way, I hope more announcements are imminent.