Amateur advisors ruining professional code
First Henson, then O'Driscoll – who next?
They say there is no use crying over spilt milk. Yet the shadowy marketing figures lurking in the lucrative wake of Gavin Henson and Brian O'Driscoll's glittering careers – among others – appear to be encouraging their 'products' to set off a bomb in a dairy and then check in for a year's post-traumatic stress counselling.
What other dirty laundry will these people try to hang on rugby's normally sheltered and private line for the next hastily-cobbled pamphlets?
Sir Clive Woodward is the next target. He could be persuaded to follow-up the pompously-titled 'Winning' with a volume about the 2005 Lions tour entitled 'Losing', in which Woodward reveals that Henry shamefully spiked his beer with depth charges of vodka after the first Test, thus making Sir Clive forget all the tactical changes he had planned for the next match.
Mike Tindall could pen a nail-biter about how he was disgracefully forced out of Bath because there were simply too many common people in the team, and his relationship with Zara was alienating him from his team-mates, and he is now happy in Gloucester where they have more space for stables anyway…
And then, just in time for Christmas, Neil Back will write a confession entitled 'Where that Hand Came From' which tells of the way the Munster players physically intimidated and threatened him during that Heineken Cup final, some even going so far as to tackle him and tell their team-mates to drive over him on their feet…
The current looming marriage between publishers of sports literature and top-class rugby union players is not a comfortable one. It is not that there isn't much to say – of all sports, possibly more goes on in rugby's dressing rooms and on its pitches than in any other – but there is not much that should be said, and even less which needs to be said.
Henson first. He has made three calamitous errors which illustrate just how professionals are starting to get out of touch with the people at the grassroots of the game.
Firstly, he has accused a counterpart of an act of foul play against him. The horror. If any of you out there who have played rugby at any reasonable level and have not been deliberately and viciously fouled by some player somewhere – particularly in an important match – I merely urge you to check your memory again.
None of us were able to have a citing procedure – many did not even have a neutral touch-judge – yet Henson believes that bleating publicly about the incident seven months later is acceptable. We never got that protection, and certainly nobody listens when you moan about it after a game. Is he any different? What goes on the pitch stays on the pitch, and has done since Billy Webb Ellis ruined his mates' kick-about.
Secondly, he has dared to believe that a book written after a one year of Test rugby might be worth a read. It would be worth a read after an illustrious career in which he had broken records and visited every rugby arena playing all the teams and great players, but Henson has not even appeared at a Rugby World Cup yet.
There is only so much you can tell about playing rugby matches, kicking goals, and scoring tries. The real secret of the sport, the reason we all love it, is the off-the-pitch stories that travel around the rugby community. The people you meet, the places you tour, the beers you drink, the policemen you grovel to, the floors you sleep on.
Henson is what can only be described as 23, and just hasn't experienced enough, as shown by the way in which he believes a tussle on the floor with Brian O'Driscoll is worth bleating about seven months later.
Thirdly, it would appear that he has been naive enough to allow someone – and it is a very pertinent detail of this whole sorry affair that whoever the mysterious 'advisors' are, they have kept themselves well out of the limelight – to take the various disjointed bits of what he has to say, and splash them all over the press.
Whoever 'they' are, they are certainly not rugby players, and possibly Henson's biggest error was not turning to someone senior within the game for guidance. His fame has advanced far beyond his rugby career, as is often the case with high-profile young sportsmen. But rugby is not like soccer, where the number of millions of pounds frequently outweigh the brain cells. There are intelligent people within the game, and Henson is intelligent enough to have used them.
So naivety helps Henson to a degree. Not so O'Driscoll. This is a seasoned pro of 59 caps, 23 as captain of his country, and generally respected by nearly all within the game. The timing of releasing the passages about the infamous 'speargate' tackle in his current volume to the press is simply abysmal. The media does not ignore rugby any more, and O'Driscoll's tome, together with the video that has so conveniently seeped into the public eye on the day O'Driscoll's book was serialised, are going to do serious damage to what could have been a New Zealand tour where history was to some extent forgiven and forgotten.
Now there is no chance of that, and now there will not be the usual friendly animosity when Ireland – or anyone else by the looks of things – plays New Zealand in November. The red mist was clearing, now it is very much waiting for the All Blacks at Lansdowne Road.
The media – particularly the 'advisors' who have presumably now fled with their slice of the pie – are to blame as well, but given the unpleasantness splashed all over the press in the last few days, it is time for the first generation of professional rugby players to glance over at soccer and remember that it never serves a sport well to take public swipes at your counterparts, no matter what the paycheck.
There is too much at stake in rugby to allow the popular press to become obsessed with egos and issues like this.
Leave the publishing advisors out of it, and don't write a book until you have something meaningful to say.
By Danny Stephens