Alex Massie

The Threat from Australia

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Adapt and change or die is the mantra of the day. And not just in economics neither. Here, for instance, is the Australian rugby coach Ewen McKenzie, currently in charge at Stade Francais, arguing that the experimental rules used this season in the southern hemisphere be adopted in europe too:

"I understand the debate, change is difficult," he warned.

"But we are now in the entertainment business. Kids have all sorts of technology in their homes now so we as a sport have got to do things to make them get off their bums and come to watch our game, especially when the weather is cold.

"That means you have got to keep thinking of new ways. The traditionalists will still come, but one day they will die out and will have to be replaced. So you have got to make it an interesting game for the next generation and they want razzamatazz.

"People won't sit around and get bored; they will move on to the next thing if our game isn't sufficiently interesting. So we have to work out how we are going to keep their attention. That is where I work from."

This, of course, is almost comically incorrect. Setting aside the obvious point that there's very little wrong - either commercially or in terms of spectacle and entertainment - with European rugby at present, McKenzie blunders by assuming that innovation and permanent revolution are always to be favoured over continuity and treating the customer with some marginal level of respect.

Notice for instance, how the presumed interests of notional supporters in the future are put ahead of the people who actually enjoy the game right now. In other words, if you actually like rugby you're part of the problem; if you don't care for the sport you're part of a potential solution. This is nonsense. Dangerous nonsense too since it presumes that you can muck around with the game all you like and the "traditionalists" will still embrace the game. But what if you change the product - rugby in this instance, but it could be anything - and the "traditionalists" say "sod this" and find some other way of spending their time and money. Ask newspaper proprietors how comfortable that scenario is.

Look, we all know that Australians prefer rugby league to rugby union and, consequently, the Aussies want to make union more like league. If they want to watch and play rugby league that's their business, but it would be nice if they left rugby union to be, well, rugby union instead of doing their best to muck up the game completely.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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