It’s time for rugby to face cold reality and seize chance to move to a summer season

John Inverdale
YOU have to be clinically insane to do what I did on Saturday. Horizontal rain, blowing a gale with a Siberian chill factor, and I voluntarily stood on a touchline watching 30 men honest and true, attempting to construct an entertaining game of rugby.

Meanwhile yesterday morning across the country, thousands of young people opened their bedroom curtains to the onset of winter, and rapidly constructed reasons as to why they would give mini-rugby a miss. And there you have it. The fundamental problem confronting the game in this country: the weather.

You can count on the (frozen) fingers of one hand, the number of visionary leaders across sport over the years. Where would tennis be without Lemar Hunt in the ‘60s or cricket without Kerry Packer in the ‘70s? Throw in to the mix those behind this year’s London Olympics. People who, with varying motivations, saw the future and went for it.

So step forward rugby union – preparing to host the World Cup in three years’ time – after which, the greatest ‘legacy’ the mandarins at Twickenham could give their sport would be moving it to the summer.

Think of the benefits to the game as a spectacle. Think of the benefits to grass-root clubs who would not need floodlights and so not be forced to ransack their first team pitch for endless training nights. Confront the reality of dwindling player numbers and consider those non-rugby, mini-rugby parents who hate cold and wretched Sunday mornings and yearn for their kids to head for the swimming pool or the taekwondo club. Think of the match-day experience for the spectators. Half the crowd at the game I saw on Saturday left the grandstand at half time for the warmth of the clubhouse and the television.

Rugby union needs visionaries who are prepared to start campaigning for a global season so that international matches, the pinnacle of the sport, are played in a clearly structured programme, which would then also allow developing nations to be part of the calendar.

It needs to forget some romantic idyll of rain-soaked pitches, players and spectators fighting against the elements, and realise that freezing your bits off on the touchline is a less appealing prospect in 2012 than it might have been 20 years ago.

The Rugby Football Union, wrestling the splinters from its corporate bottom after years of sitting on the fence, can be the catalysts for change. Ian Ritchie and his team at Twickenham have the opportunity to save you and I from afternoons like last Saturday.