Grass Roots Gossip

One of the great things about rugby league is the genuine warmth between opposing players and coaches, particularly in the open age arena.

The bitter and often unforgiving world of sports politics is of little or no interest to the people who count most in this game, ie the lads and lasses who participate directly, and the folk who select and guide them.

So it's with dismay that I'm witnessing what I hope won't become a real breakdown in relations between the BARLA and GB Community Lions camps as the mess, created in my opinion by the launch of the latter team, threatens to cause damage that could take some time to repair.

I touched, in last week's column, on the chaos and ill-feeling surrounding the BARLA players' decision, at the `trials festival' nine days ago, not to confirm their availability for the GB Community Lions' forthcoming game in France.

There are now accusations hurtling backwards and forwards over whether players have or have not been put under pressure to opt for either camp, and I hear that people are now holding on to emails and other documentation as dockets of evidence build up.

It's such an unnecessary situation and one which was foreseeable, in general terms at least, when the GB Amateurs concept was launched.

What's as sad as anything about the saga is that the new representative structure, even on its own terms, isn't working.

I've written before that I don't agree with the concept of BARLA sitting alongside the Rugby League Conference, Combined Services and GB Students as part of a pyramid feeding into the Community Lions (or whatever you want to call them) at the head of the edifice.

The simple reason for that is that, currently, the majority of the top amateur players hail from BARLA ranks. A more efficient system, to my mind, is that players from outside the heartlands should be given more opportunities to force their way in to what I'll still call, for the sake of this argument, the BARLA Great Britain team.

That's one way around the problem. Another solution which I raised a while ago and didn't get any flak for (although I expected plenty) is to do away with amateur international status altogether. After all, willing and talented as they undoubtedly are, amateur internationals are not the best players in the country. If they were then, in normal circumstances, they would have turned professional and be featuring in the full Great Britain side that we hope will soon lift the Tri-Nations Cup.

If, though, we accept that the controversial new structure is the right one for amateur rugby, then it has failed at the first attempt. I say that because, contrary to what I had hoped for and expected, there is not a single player from the Rugby League Conference in the squad to visit France.

If the new template should have any credibility, it should facilitate the elevation of players from outside the heartlands into the GB Community Lions side.

I understand that, in this instance, the system broke down through the Lionhearts having to field a scratch side in their game last week against a GB Students team that, as usual, was able to boast several professionals in its ranks. It didn't look that way when the score came through of 42-0 to the Lionhearts, subsequently adjusted to 46-0. That surprised me, I have to admit, and I took it that the Students had fielded a fully amateur team (which surely, again for the sake of credibility, they should have done anyway in a `trial' game).

It turned out during the week, though, that I had been fed some duff information. The Lionhearts had lost 42-0 and that result goes some way to explaining why no Summer Conference men will be on the plane for France next Sunday.

The situation does, though, need addressing. I'm sure that there are players outside the north of England who have the ability to earn a place in the Community Lions (or, ideally, BARLA Great Britain) team and they should be given every chance to achieve just that.

Trial matches are a useless means of evaluating a player's qualities in what, after all, is a team game. Far better that the Lionhearts be included in a serious representative competition in which their players can show their paces and hopefully catch the eye.

They (and the Irish, Scottish and Welsh teams) could, for example, be included in the Skanska Cup for 2007, where they would meet such as the Army, RAF and Royal Navy together with the likes of GB Students, the Police and the Prison Service.

Where would BARLA, the current Skanska Cup holders, fit into this? Well, maybe the BARLA side should continue to be directly involved, as last season. But I would prefer that BARLA Great Britain heads the pyramid, with Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire contesting the Skanska Cup alongside the other teams in addition to competing for the County Championship.

Full details would, of course, have to be hammered out, but the main benefit of my scheme – which is only a modification of what is already in place – is that all amateur players, wherever they are from, would have a clear route to the highest representative honour available. That, after all, was the rationale behind the new blueprint in the first place. The beauty of the revamped system, though, is that it should put an end to the threat of civil war which is currently undermining both the GB Community Lions and BARLA camps.

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