IT'S the final round of Super Rugby.
And while seven games are on offer, for many fans it's all about just two of tomorrow night's match-ups ... Brumbies versus Blues and Reds versus Tahs.
The outcomes of these two fixtures will, more than likely, determine the Australian representation in the Super Rugby finals.
A Brumbies win, or at least one point (possible if they lose by seven or less), and they secure top spot of the Australian Conference. Anything else and they leave it up to chance. As for the Reds, well, it's a bit more complicated. Too complicated for this columnist!
Anyway, we are all about the rugby here, about the style of rugby; the rugby product.
The Brumbies clash has potential. The Blues like it loose and have nothing to lose, literally. The only things that can stop this game from being a cracker is the possibility of the Brumbies catching 'Super Rugby Finals-itis' (symptoms resemble an uneasy conservatism), and, of course, the refs performance.
As for the Reds clash, I'm guessing this will resemble the Eaton Wall Game, but with 42,000 plus people watching on.
I hope I'm wrong.
Loyalty - an evolving commodity
I see Sonny Bill Williams is copping a bit as a result of his movement away from New Zealand rugby, and the rugby code, via Japan, and more than likely back to the NRL.
I reckon there'll be some in Australia asking the same questions. The word that is at the forefront of this questioning is loyalty.
This of course is not totally unexpected, if not misguided. Rugby, with an eighteen year history as a professional code, is still struggling with change to various institutions and ways of doing things-the 'old way'. And one of these is loyalty.
Loyalty in a traditional rugby sense meant players grow up in an area and played for the closest team until they retired. Say you grew up in the South of Brisbane, you played for Souths, and no one else. And if lucky and talented enough you advanced to the Queensland team, and then to Wallaby honours. Loyalty was a somewhat linear term.
But that has changed. Rugby is now a profession and (as with all professions) players align themselves with the best available paymaster. You might have been born In South Brisbane, but if Norths can provide you with a more profitable deal, then Norths it is. And should you be lucky enough to attract Super Rugby attention, the Reds will only be one paymaster you and your business manager will consult and negotiate with.
And, as it's 2012, your manager will also 'test the waters' with AFL and NRL teams.
So in the professional era, loyalty is no longer linear, rather it is temporal and a tradable commodity. Tradable in increments or the parameters of one's current contractual terms. A player is loyal to his club right now, and only for as long as his contract stipulates - sometimes not even that long.
He then enters the marketplace for rights to his next contract of 'loyalty'.
This is way, way different to how things were once done. Negotiating this cultural change is possibly the last struggle the code needs to address to evolve to professional maturity. In saying that, it's quite possibly a generational issue as well, with many older rugby people never able to come to terms with it. And that's fine, too.
But is this right? Is this the sustainable? Well, for professional sport as a whole it's right and sustainable. And some players will win in this environment, as will some codes.
But they're not really questions with any weight, or being asked by anyone is a position of power or influence. It is what it is. Rugby is professional sport and its players are paid workers trading their loyalty in the marketplace, just like any worker.
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