I HAVE no idea why the England rugby union team wore a plum coloured kit against Australia though my daughter informs me that berry colours are “in” this autumn.
Australia play in green and gold, and England wear white, so there was no clash of colours. The whole thing looked a bit potty to me, and all it did was further erode the notion that tradition has any place in modern sport.
When you add the garish boot colours – Chris Ashton’s boots were orange – you can perhaps see an attempt to add much needed colour to what was a pretty dull encounter.
I know that these matches are talked up with great enthusiasm – that is the job of the sports industry propagandists – but they rarely merit the hype.
The simple fact is that the skills of the England team are weak, while the Australians are much more competent at performing the basic skills of passing and running.
However, what is really significant about the England rugby union team is just how few of the players are authentic products of English rugby union. Of the two centres on Saturday, Brad Barritt is a South African, and Manu Tuilagi is a Samoan. Chris Ashton, the winger, is a rugby league player from Wigan, and Thomas Waldrom the number 8 is a New Zealander. When you add to that the regular selection of Mouritz Botha (South African), Dylan Hartley (New Zealand), Hendrie Fourie (South African), Matt Stevens (South African), you do get the feeling that local lads are either being excluded on the grounds of being insufficiently exotic or just not up to the job.
The problem with English rugby union is that it is getting a bit like Premier League football. The top teams recruit players from all over the world as their first duty is to be a successful club side, and not worry about eligibility for the national team.
The difference, and it is a crucial difference, is that the national side in rugby union is far and away the most important team in the country in a sport where international competition is its life-blood.
Despite a big effort over the last 15 years or so, the balance of power in English rugby union is still overwhelmingly with the national team.
It is the great strength of rugby union, and the performance of the national team is the yardstick most people use to gauge the health of the domestic game.
So an increase in the number of talented overseas players in club sides is potentially very bad news for national selectors – as it creates a reduced pool of case-hardened players of the right quality – unless they alter the rules for national selection and adopt a more relaxed approach to the concept of “Englishness”.
It is striking how little discussion there has been on this aspect of rugby union (and cricket for that matter) when the diaspora-based selection policies of other countries have long been a source of amused comment, much of it in a very superior voice.
Although the 57 old farts of the RFU, as a former England captain memorably described them, may think of themselves as blazered guardians of tradition, the fact is that they are in the vanguard of profound changes which reflect the diversity of national life in a way that would astonish their predecessors.
It is the best sporting example I can think validating the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention.