With the World Rugby election looming, the sport is at one of the biggest crossroads in its history.
The campaign between Sir Bill Beuamont and Agustin Pichot has turned into a battle between north and south. It has been painted as the old guard against the revolutionary.
Here, Mail on Sunday columnist Mike Brown caught up with Harlequins and England team-mate Joe Marchant to discuss the game’s future. Marchant is currently on loan with the Blues in New Zealand so the pair discussed over Zoom how the two regions can unite to pave the way for things to come. Our Rugby Correspondent Nik Simon listened in.
Columnist Mike Brown (L) discussed the future of rugby with Joe Marchant over Zoom
The Harlequins team-mates spoke about how England and New Zealand can unite
MIKE BROWN: Morning! Wait … are you still in bed?
JOE MARCHANT: When you said eight o’clock, I thought you meant 8pm! I thought my alarm was going off but it was you! Shall I put some clothes on and phone you back?
BROWN: Don’t worry about it. We’ll see the real Joe Marchant. How’s the lockdown over there? And how’s your dad, Mooner? I can’t believe it’s 15 years since he coached me at sixth form college.
MARCHANT: Dad’s missing his rugby! I looked at flying home but there were no flights available, so I’ve set up a little home gym. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is a bit of a hero out here and there’s talk about getting a domestic tournament going. It’s a different situation to the UK because we’re on a remote island and hopefully we’ll be back training in a few weeks’ time.
Marchant is hoping to be back training in a few weeks’ time as New Zealand ease restrictions
BROWN: I’ve been following your time out there and you’ve been going well for the Blues. Super Rugby is so much more exciting to watch than the Premiership.
English rugby is a bit stale and I think we need a better product to grow. People keep talking about the sport being at a crossroads, but firstly I think we need a better product to move forwards. Does it feel different as a player out there?
MARCHANT: It’s a lot quicker. It’s harder to get set in time in defence. Once the offloads start coming, it’s so hard to get back in the line. They want to keep the ball alive and that’s what we practise in training.
Take the contact, offload, keep the ball alive, no matter what number you have on your back.
Back home, you always know Chris Ashton will naturally be on your shoulder as a support runner. Here it could be a second row or a hooker flooding through. They just play in the moment.
BROWN: I like the look of the young winger, Mark Telea … we should sign him up!
MARCHANT: He can sprint and stop, sprint and stop. It’s freakish. He’s half-Samoan, half-South African.
BROWN: He’s going to play for New Zealand, then!
Brown believes English rugby has become a bit stale with the game needing a better product
I feel that Premiership coaches are more conservative because they’re worried about relegation. You’re not encouraged to make that high-risk play, especially if you’re lower in the table. Having the ball turned over is the biggest ‘no, no’ going. Even Eddie Jones has blown up at me a few times about ball security if I tried to offload. It’s time to seriously look at getting rid of relegation in the Premiership. Does it make the rugby better?
MARCHANT: I reckon so. Even though the Blues have struggled in the New Zealand comp over the last couple of years, everyone tries to play the same way, keep things quick. During my time at Quins when we’ve struggled a bit, the natural approach has been direct, win the set-piece, slow down the game.
BROWN: Let’s be honest, rugby’s on the brink at the moment. We’re all taking pay cuts and there’s a lot of noise about the future. Something needs to change.
I used to love watching rugby. I watched Saracens against Exeter on TV recently — the two best teams in England — and I just found it boring. There was one driving maul try, one pick-and-go try and one that came from a knock on. It was two teams of big guys running into each other. Kick, kick, kick, kick, error. It was the two best teams in England, full of internationals, and it was boring.
Everything has become defence orientated. I want to see offloads, speed and teams would loosen up with no relegation. Of course the league needs to leave the door open for ambitious clubs, but this relegation yo-yo between the Premiership and the Championship isn’t helpful. If teams meet the criteria to join the Premiership, then expand it. They have 14 teams in the French league so why can’t they do that here? Naturally, there will be added pressure on the calendar, so scrap the Premiership Cup.
Marchant believes there should be scope for a secondary competition for relegated teams
MARCHANT: The rebuilding process for relegated teams is really tough so it would help long-term development if they didn’t go through that. But there should be scope for a secondary competition.
We’ve got the Prem Shield, Prem Cup and Premiership. There should be a secondary development competition which combines academy guys and Championship players.
BROWN: There are a lot of conversations about forming a global season. It’s the hot topic in the election race between Bill Beuamont and Agustin Pichot.
Our sport hasn’t changed for a long time and I messaged Pichot the other day saying he has my support. We need modernising. The northern hemisphere season should align with the southern. The reason is because the game would be faster and more skilful if it were played in the summer. Playing surfaces would be better. The state of Bath’s pitch in the winter is a disgrace.
MARCHANT: It’s a big ask to align the seasons but there’s talk about the global competition where all countries play against each other. That would be awesome. It’s a different structure here because they spend half the season playing Mitre 10 and the other half playing Super Rugby.
There’s a central contract system in place which works well. It allows for a bit more flexibility. They can move you around. If there’s a window of opportunity for a young lad to get game-time at another team, they will have the opportunity to take it. We had a fringe player training with us in the pre-season, then the Hurricanes had an injury and he switched straight away.
Brown texted Agustin Pichot to tell the Argentine he had his support in the upcoming election
BROWN: A more desirable game will result in more money coming in. I agree that central contracts could improve the English game in terms of player welfare and the strength of the national team. The sport just needs to be a little bit more adaptable.
MARCHANT: The idea about a new PlayStation game was awesome. In the previous computer game, I was paired up with Jamie Roberts in the centres and the stats said I was bigger than him — and he was quicker and more agile than me! Clearly things need modernising!
BROWN: Hopefully your stats have gone up in New Zealand! You’ve always been on the fringes with England and I’d like to see you given a chance when you return. Have you heard from Eddie?
MARCHANT: The odd text here and there. I briefly spoke to Eddie about the idea of coming out here during the World Cup training camps. He was really supportive of it. I always wanted to play for England. Coming here wasn’t because I’d given up on playing for England. It was because I thought it would help improve my chances of being selected. Hopefully when I get back it will boost my chances.
BROWN: Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later!