Tour cover-up goes south
June 25, 2010
Jamie Heaslip's cover slipped when he was red-carded against the All Blacks © Getty Images
Rumours are circulating in the rugby world that the vast majority of players from England, Ireland, France and Wales were planning to keep quiet about their summer tour exploits.
The Six Nations sides boarded their planes a few weeks back with large numbers of key players missing - and those who were travelling apparently weary and jaded from a lengthy season. Results were expected to be dismal for all.
Investigative reporting has revealed that players, coaches and officials from the northern hemisphere met in mid-May to discuss the idea of making as 'little noise' as possible about their tours so as to avoid resentment and anger back in their own countries when things went badly.
Players and officials agreed to avoid major press conferences, writing blogs or doing too much publicity work so as few people as possible outside the hardcore rugby community would be aware of the tours. Players even went as far as to post fake Facebook profile updates claiming to be anywhere but on a rugby tour.
With rugby currently suffering from 'overkill' as seasons last ten or more months, it was thought that if little fuss was made over the tours, the average armchair fan would be unlikely to get up early each weekend to follow the doomed expeditions.
Indeed, at first the potential 'cover up' of the tours seemed to be a wise and shrewd move. In depth scouring of the internet has revealed the following results: The summer started badly for Ireland who lost at home to the Barbarians before utterly collapsing in their opening test against New Zealand. Last Friday it seems they lost another game but, as of press time, it was not confirmed who they were playing. England, meanwhile, lost their opening two games in Australia and apparently played with no sense of rhythm, structure or attack in either match. Wales lost what seems to have been a home game against South Africa (although our research has not made clear why Wales played at home in June to a southern hemisphere team) before getting humiliated by the All Blacks last weekend. France, not to be outdone, took a severe beating from South Africa.
In the early phases of the 'cover up' plan, players and managers were said to be extremely grateful that the summer tours coincided with the FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon tennis championships as this would lead to 'relatively low profile media analysis and criticism of negative results'.
Ireland and Leinster's Jamie Heaslip, who it seems suffered the ignominy of a red card in Ireland's 66-28 hammering at the hands of New Zealand in New Plymouth, is believed to have told his family and friends he has been on holiday in southern Spain for the past three weeks and nowhere near a rugby field at all.
"Jamie saw the amount of injuries and missing players before Ireland embarked on their tough tour down under and had a feeling things might not go well," said a source close to the Leinster No.8. "When he was selected to go with the Irish squad he didn't make much of a fuss about it, didn't even send out any texts or make any Facebook updates like he would before a Six Nations tournament. Only the most hardcore Irish rugby followers knew he was due to go down under. Then, when he went and got red carded for kneeing someone in the head against the All Blacks, he was glad he hadn't made much of a fuss.
"As most of the media is busy covering the FIFA World Cup and the like, his red card didn't get the exposure such a thing would normally get. Making things a bit easier, the match was only shown on satellite television and got almost no coverage on domestic Irish television at all. The next thing I know, Jamie's Facebook status is saying he's been in Spain 'chilling out' by the beach all weekend. I couldn't believe it."
However, the plans to keep things as low key as possible in relation to the summer tours took a turn when England unexpectedly won against Australia in the second Test of their series. Dozens of Facebook profiles belonging to English players and managment, which had originally claimed they were on holiday or taking a well earned break from rugby, suddenly changed to show images of celebration and joy on the pitch at Sydney after a shock English victory.
"Ben Youngs is claiming to be doing some DIY at home," said a Facebook friend of the Leicester scrum-half. "Yet five hours after he posted a message about having trouble getting the shelves up straight and needing to buy some new carpet tacks, he's suddenly claiming to have made his English starting debut and scored a 30-metre solo try. I mean, come on, pull the other one. It's got bells on it."
At present it seems Ireland, Wales and France are pleading with English officials to keep to the original media plan and toe the party line. Scotland players, however, were not part of the cover up plans as, in general, they deny going on summer tours most years.
James Stafford is editor of The East Terrace (www.theeastterrace.com) - an offside view of life in the rugby world