*A former international rugby player sharing his thoughts on the game anonymously
A major problem with the professionalism of sport today is the media training that strips players of all their individuality and personality.
The current England rugby squad are all consistently banging on about ‘the group’ with nobody diverting from that company line. It’s like they’re a political party trying to keep each other in their seats.
Nevertheless, players whiter than white interviews are more damaging than you think, especially in rugby where its popularity was built upon its colourful characters.
You can pretend the younger generation aren’t slowly becoming more invested in online ‘personalities’ (key word) through ESports and YouTube, but you’d be lying to yourself.
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A sport where prize money and crowds seems to be still growing is boxing. Fighters are arguably even more impressive athletes than rugby players, yet understand that they need to promote their sport to generate interest, increase crowds and make more money.
There seems to be an arrogance that rugby is above this self promotion, but that’s dead wrong. Players want huge pay-rises despite not putting more bums in seats or increasing viewership, and that has put the game on a collision course with financial disaster.
Relating my point to something that isn’t sport, would you care whether Steve McQueen makes it over the fence or not in the Great Escape if you’ve not already became invested in the character? Probably not.
I do appreciate modern players dedication to their craft, but that isn’t what fans love the sport for. It was the players, their personalities and their rivalries that made us fall in love with the game.
There is reason why the two players who drive engagement are Ellis Genge and Joe Marler. Not always for the right reason, but at least people actually care about them.
There are some players who can get their personality across through their actions on the pitch, such as Sergio Parisse and Alun Wyn Jones, but they are few and far between.
Popularity of rugby union in England will continue to stagnate or decline without more standout characters to promote the game we love.