Thursday, November 23, 2006

GB on the slab

So - the dust has settled, the gnashing and wailing has quietened and it's time to give Great Britain's 2006 Tri-Nations campaign a thorough post mortem and a burial according to the religion of its choice.

What started so positively with the narrow and controversial defeat to the Kiwis followed by the win in Sydney finished with a sense of deja vu and a couple of substantial defeats. The usual culprits have already been trotted out by players, coaches and pundits alike - too many foreign players, too many games, schedule against us etc. While each has an element of truth to it, are they alone enough to explain the difference between the two hemispheres?

Since the lifting of the international ban in the 1980s, the UK has been an attractive place for Australian and Kiwi players to ply their trade, and even more so in recent years with the exchange rates making Super League more attractive despite competitions in both hemispheres operating under a salary cap. While there is little doubt that some sides in SL have more non-GB qualified players than is necessarily healthy, developments in employment legislation such as freedom of movement for people with EU passports and the Kolpak ruling have made it much harder to control numbers in the domestic game. The presence of high quality overseas players such as Jamie Lyon and Trent Barrett is undoubtedly beneficial, but I'm not sure the same can be said for many of the others.

Too many games? I'm not going to sound like one of the dinosaurs often reeled out to provide local radio commentary by banging on about the number of games they used to play in the depths of winter in their day. The fact is that the game has changed and there is only so much abuse the human body can take and still perform to its full potential. Including league, cup, playoff and representative games some of the GB players will have been racking up their 40th appearances of a season that began with pre-season training in January. Their antipodean counterparts will have played roughly ten less games and had an extra month's rest before the start of their season. Does it make a difference? It's hard to see how it doesn't, but until the tail stops wagging the dog and SL is no longer run by those with petty club loyalties and pound signs in their eyes it isn't going to change radically for the better.

Scheduling is probably less of an issue, but it's one just the same. Given the timetable for the Tri Nations and the respective Grand Finals, it's hard to see how much can change to stop GB having to play four weeks on the bounce while allowing Australia and New Zealand vital time off mid competition. The only way you could accommodate it in the present situation would be to start the competition two weeks later, but then you wouldn't be finishing it until some six weeks before the start of the northern hemisphere season and thereby increasing the risk of player burnout. Forget Ricky Stuart's protestations that he'd rather play four weeks in succession, and ask his players instead. I doubt you'd find many complaining about not having to play every week.

There may be lots of easy questions and plenty of easy targets for those who wish to pick over the bones of another ultimately disappointing international campaign, but unless some minds, hearts and wallets are opened there appear to be very few easy answers.

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