Breaking up the Union

Anyone who has followed the news recently will have spotted the debate about Scottish independence and breaking up the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  The election of the Scottish National Party to the Scottish Parliament seems to suggest that Great Britain’s time is drawing to a close. It’s been the same story in rugby league.

Richard Lewis, executive chairman of the RFL, has made it clear that he wants to see an England national team contest the Ashes, the Gillette Tri-Nations and other tournaments after next year’s World Cup. This has provoked a reaction from those players who currently represent Great Britain & Ireland (as the side is officially titled).

Iestyn Harris has spoken out this week. His argument is that players who could choose to represent either England or one of the other Home Nations will choose the former, because otherwise they would not have the chance to play Australia or New Zealand. This would irreparably damage the ability of Wales, Scotland and Ireland to compete

Harris makes a fair point. Wales have reached the semi-finals of the last two World Cups. Would they have achieved that without players who would under this new way of doing things be playing only for England? It seems unlikely.

The national teams currently provide a focal point for expansion going on in those  countries. With the RFL promoting such expansion surely they must see that weakening the Welsh, Scottish and Irish teams would be to shoot themselves in the foot.

There is also the matter of history. Rugby league fans have grown accustomed to supporting Great Britain. Great Britain can claim to have won three World Cups, while England cannot. At a time when football, rugby union and cricket play as England, surely it is better for rugby league to have something distinctive to make us stand out?

But maybe the RFL is right to follow the pattern of public opinion. The election of SNP in Scotland seems to suggest that people are more willing to back their own country rather than Great Britain as a whole. So does the votes cast for Plaid Cymru in Wales, and polls telling us that there is more support for Scottish independence in England.

In sports too this is true. The official title of cricket’s national side is England & Wales, and there are a number of Welshmen in the side. But when they beat Australia in the Ashes it was England’s victory. Thousands are willing to support the England u21s in football, but how much credibility is attached to the Great Britain and NI team that plays in the Olympics?

I would personally like to see Great Britain here to stay. But the RFL will only be moving with public opinion if they decide to opt for separate national sides. After all, in a few years there may not even be a Great Britain to represent.

It’s tough at the bottom

There have been bigger shocks this season than Salford City Reds’ win over Huddersfield Giants last Friday night. A reaction is usually provoked when the coach gets sacked, and this was always a game that a revitalised Salford could get two points from. But the big question is whether they can carry it on.

This week the Reds take on St Helens This will be a stern test for the side, whether or not they have a new coach installed by them. The Saints are a class above, and it seems unlikely that Salford will get another two points. More likely that we will see a similar situation to Bank Holiday Monday’s, where St Helens  overcame first-half resistance from an improved Warrington Wolves.

The Wolves are another side becoming immersed in relegation trouble. Their second-half showing on Monday left much to be desired, and they too face a tough test this week against a Leeds Rhinos side anxious to stay at the top of the table. It will be a difficult job for Warrington to keep their heads above water.

Rams test for ‘Haven

Thursday night will see more Co-Operative National league action on Sky Sports, with Dewsbury Rams and Whitehaven facing off at Tetley’s Stadium. The Rams have not been performing too badly since their promotion, considering that other promoted clubs have found it hard to keep the pace, and will be stern test for the promotion hopefuls of Whitehaven.

The most important thing is to get a close-fought and skilful game onto TV screens.  All the National League games have been skilful in my opinion, but some have been quite one-sided. It’s also important to get a decent-sized crowd through the turnstiles, which will ensure a great atmosphere and hopefully encourage more people to show up at National League games.

The real irony is that Sky Sports’ Mike “Stevo” Stephenson will be making a return to his former club, Dewsbury, for the Sky TV coverage. On last Thursday’s ‘Boots ’N’ All’ Stevo accused clubs like Dewsbury of only being in it for the money, and described them as practically amateur. I’m surprised he sees the journey as worth taking.

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