Player Signings Still a Major Distraction in Professional Rugby

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Recent news has only added to the major distraction, as local and offshore player signings continue to demonstrate the pitfalls of professional rugby. Signings seem to appear out of nowhere, all the while players should be focused on competition playoffs or pre-season training.

In New Zealand, several players re-signed this week, while one current All Black chose to sign an offshore deal. That mixture of contract outcomes will support, but also prove a distraction for fans. These latest occurrences only reinforce a common perception. Supporters who are eager to enjoy the Super Rugby finals series….would want to focus solely on those fixtures, without this constant distraction.

Player signings continued in Europe too, with a player who enjoyed a stellar British and Irish Lions tour, finally revealing terms for a move to the Aviva Premiership. So the news is not limited to Southern Hemisphere rugby, and is an all too common element of professional rugby in 2017.

Player Signings Still a Major Distraction in Professional Rugby

This week has been full of distraction. While reading and watching the build-up to the playoffs of Super Rugby should be a significant occasion alone. As well, pre-season for European rugby competition is well under way, yet player signings have continued unabated.

This latest list includes the men below (plus others not reported):

Re-signing #1 – Ryan Crotty (one year)

Player Signing Offshore – Malakai Fekitoa (signed with Toulon)

Re-Signing #2 – Waisake Naholo (signed for one year)

Speculation Growing – Damian McKenzie (possible link to Leicester)

Saracens Confirm Signing – Liam Williams (signed for three years)

Player signing offshore – Chris Ashton (signed with Toulon)

Fan Attention Taken Away from the Key Focus Point – the Game

However you justify it; when, who and how much, any news aside from the match result, is a distraction. Sometimes that can include the weeks build-up, but sport is more often, outcome-based. And while professional rugby is now an industry, the employment and contractual dealings during and right before a playoff game, seem ill-timed.

It might be a culmination of a long process, that is a factor yes. Some of these discussions with parties like New Zealand Rugby, Toulon or Saracens, may have begun months before. These reported decisions may also have only just been made, but it is becoming an all too indiscriminate announcement that see’s no timely rationale.

Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs during the Super Rugby match between Stormers and Chiefs. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The terms and conditions are not in question either. One of the highest paid player signings was Aaron Cruden (see picture above). He signed with an offshore club in the early weeks of Super Rugby. In comparison, Charlie Faumuina chose to make his announcement pre-season. Even All Blacks skipper Kieran Read re-signed, though he was recuperating from an injury at the time. All decisions made over the full course of a rugby season.

Which one caused the more distraction? Some might think that in the early weeks of competition are critical. Others will say that the post-season knockout competition is undeniably more important. A time where any form of distraction from the group objective, is dis-waging of the team goals.

Decisions Must be Made – Timing Must be Respectful Though

It is a marketplace, yes. The limited talent pool makes players offshore attractive, yes. And there is no period or ‘window’ for signings set by the governing body World Rugby. By all the decisions made, it can occur whenever after a murmur or hinted suggestions are made by the media. But many fans are taken completely by surprise.

If the timing were consistent, then possibly it might play less of a role. It would not be so intrusive–the last three days have seen two re-signings, and one player move offshore. The frequency could be reflected in Australia, South Africa and in Europe. With no timeline, it is at the player agents liking….but not the fans.

When Liam Williams (see picture below) was rumoured to be shifting from the Celtic league to the Aviva Premiership, Welsh fans began to react. With the game as popular in Wales as it is in New Zealand, the public reaction is something that most players agents have little regard for.

Liam Williams of the Lions is tackled by Beauden Barrett (R) and Malakai Fekitoa during the Test match between the New Zealand and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park on July 8, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

In fact, his confirmed move to Saracens may have seen Chris Ashton forced to make his own decision to signed offshore (to the lucrative Top 14 French competition). A market where so many Southern Hemisphere players end up. Their choice but it is the timing–where fans who have brought shirts with players name etched on–now feel let down.

Player Signings Can Bring Reward, as Much as Resentment

So if the Super Rugby playoffs and the chance of a championship finals series is not respected as a time to concentrate on your teams goals, then it appears to be carte blanch. Observers might believe that an announcement from Malakai Fekitoa (see main picture) could show dis-loyalty–although that is a more emotional reaction, than a true consideration of professional rugby.

But the game is played [and supported] with emotion involved. So if, on the cusp of a playoff for the semi-final place in Super Rugby 2017, changing teams may create apparent resentment, why do so many still make these choices now?. As much for signing/leaving, but for signing/leaving Now!

And if the offshore signings and players leaving local competition continues over the full calendar year, then questions need posing of the administrators.

That is another subject though–the bodies that ratify player contracts and the professional actions of their representatives, could moniter and control that if they so chose to. If some controls can be put in place, most fans will appreciate it.

They have little to control; apart from the remote control and their disposable income. Two factors that surely mean as much to players and professional rugby organizations, as is their prolonged passion for the game of rugby union.

“Main photo credit”