Loose Pass: Verbals, television viewing and an awkward sponsor moment

Loose Pass image 3 January 2023.jpg Credit: Alamy
Loose Pass image 3 January 2023.jpg Credit: Alamy

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with verbals, TV viewing and the difficulties inherent in sponsorship…

A word out of place

It’s probably fair to say that, if nothing else, Joe Marler has once again managed to split rugby’s stakeholding along polar lines by insulting Jake Heenan’s mother. Most of the popular media reaction, always happy to race up to the summit of moral high ground, suggests that he ought to be at least hung, if not also drawn and quartered too. After he has served his lifetime ban of course.

That’s backed up by many of the social media comments, but there is also a sizeable contingent who suggest that sledging happens, that mental toughness is a part of the game and that the ongoing moral outrage currently doing the rounds is little more than woke gone bananas again.

The truth, as always, is somewhere between those poles – just as the number of problems surrounding the whole incident are far more than just the single aspect of what Marler did.

Referee Karl Dickson should not escape scrutiny, for example. On the audio currently doing the rounds, the first time Marler delivers his withering assessment of Heenan’s mother’s profession, Mr. Dickson’s reaction to the escalating tension is to stand back and say, without a lot of conviction: “Let’s go, boys, let’s go.” But Marler’s insult was delivered at reasonable volume – almost on a parallel to the volume Dickson’s own voice comes through the ref mic. It’s surprising at least that Mr. Dickson claims not to have heard it.

But even if he did not, it was surely time by this point, in what was already a fractious encounter, for him to step in among all the ugly chatter and tell the players to shut up and get on with it. The fracas that ensued did not start when Marler said what he said, it started a good few seconds later after a lot more verbal jousting. It’s tiring to listen to, a preventative word to all was sorely needed.

The disciplinary does not come out of this well either. If they believe a six-week ban is appropriate, then that’s what they believe. Considering the phrase that Marler’s words “should form no part of the modern game” and that they threaten the values of the sport, six weeks is probably about right.

Where the option of suspending more than half of the ban comes from is an absolute mystery. It serves no purpose, in our view, other than to ensure Marler has a week of European action under his belt before the Six Nations, an unashamedly self-serving piece of judicial chicanery from the RFU. It would be good if World Rugby were to take the RFU to task over their own wording: “Rugby’s core values are not empty words or slogans which can be signed up to and then ignored. They are not to be treated as useful bolt-ons dreamt up by a marketing team. They are integral to the game and are what make the game special,” and insist that the RFU enforces its own judgement properly.

And finally, the words themselves. Wrong, plain and simple. Deserving of censure. Also happens on the pitch far, far more than many would care to admit. At what point do we decide that there needs to be a full crackdown, in what way could we ensure that it never happens again? On a practical level, close to impossible – beyond heaping further pressure on referees to listen to and act upon every muttered conversation between players in a game.

Not that we take him to task for doing so, but would Heenan have reacted so heatedly were it not for the fact that his mother is currently extremely ill? Would he have been better able to laugh it off or save his revenge for a cold ruck? Quite possibly. And had he done so, would we even be having this conversation? Heenan was penalised for his reaction, lest we forget: Marler actually got what he wanted at the time. He wouldn’t be the first to have done so either.

Marler’s words do not have a place in the game, but nor do self-serving disciplinary processes, nor does disciplinary inconsistency, all of which need critical examination here.

Bums on seats and eyes on the prize

While rugby continues to be dragged behind TV paywalls and while clubs/franchises/regions continue to struggle to sell out stadia (in South Africa, barely fill a few rows) in these tough times, France continues to thrive.

Fuelled in part by the looming World Cup and naturally by the success of the national team, France’s Top 14 has become not only European rugby’s most powerful league but also a media powerhouse.

The New Year’s Day clash between Clermont and Toulouse attracted almost a million viewers (not to mention selling out the Marcel Michelin) while the New Year’s Eve multiplex show (a continuous broadcast jinking between games to show scores as they happen across the league) notched 600,000 viewers. The day’s early game, between Bayonne and Toulon, pulled 546,000 viewers.

The latter two are new records, the former figure the best for five years. And stadia everywhere were rocking. The Top 14 and the clubs are doing it right.

Awkward sponsor moment

It’s close to impossible for sponsors of both teams and individuals not to avoid moments of overlap. Some teams have kit provided by one manufacturer, but players have individual boot contracts with another, for example. It happens.

But a whole new level was reached during the aftermath of the Clermont-Toulouse game.

Antoine Dupont, in effervescent form for his side, received a congratulatory tweet from Volvic, for whom he is an ambassador, featuring Dupont in celebratory mode and reading: “the pose of victory, congratulations to Antoine Dupont and his team, we are proud of our ambassador.”

All good so far, but the problems start as well. Volvic is an official partner of Clermont and is both founded and headquartered in the volcanic Auvergne region. Clermont fans were not impressed and erupted, showering the brand with enough online heat that the tweet was promptly extinguished.

Brand communication manager Christine Raphanël later apologised, calling the tweet ‘clumsy’ and reassuring all of the company’s commitment to Clermont. The twitter account has been dormant since…

READ MORE: WATCH: Antoine Dupont stars at flyhalf for Toulouse in historic Top 14 win over Clermont

The article Loose Pass: Verbals, television viewing and an awkward sponsor moment appeared first on Planetrugby.com.