Rugby types (the blokes, at least) have long got a bad rap for not having a lot ‘upstairs’, or to be less blunt, having more brawn than brains, but I’d argue playing and following the modern game requires quite the reverse.
Look at how complicated the game has become over the last few years with changes to the rules. Half the fun of watching a game of rugby with fellow fans is trying to figure out why the referee has blown his whistle. Consider that each year the rules change – there are 11 new laws this year – and that there are different ‘interpretations’ of rugby rules between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, not to mention different referees with different takes on the rules. Sometimes I think you need a degree in the laws of the game just to play.
The top end of rugby was never more competitive and the line that separates a win from a loss is razor thin. Winning is an “And / And” equation of ‘brainware’ making adroit calls both on and off the pitch, not just the hardware of physical talent and brawn driving for the line. Plus, for players, there’s more career-lengthening opportunity in getting the neurons firing. Thanks to technology, interactivity and connectivity, professional players can earn a degree, build a brand or start a business (beyond the car dealership) at a speed that allows a good career to ‘retire’ into. Moonlighting was easier but options slimmer in the amateur days when you could milk the cows in the morning and play for the All Blacks in the afternoon.
Professional rugby, like any other pro sport, requires total commitment and focus, making it harder and more important to plan ahead. I reckon we’ll be seeing more smarts flowing to and from the game they play heaven. Look out David Kirk (Rhodes Scholar/CEO), Nick Farr-Jones (legal eagle) and John Kirwan (Knight-coach), here come the rest of the boys.