CASTRES, FRANCE -If you’re wondering why I’m reporting from Castres instead of our own James Harrington, it’s because the Rugby Rain Man Collective (rugby geeks) has demanded a neutral presence on the circus that is Rodrigo Capó Ortega.
The curious case of Ortega began last week when his club, Castres, announced that he was withdrawing from the Uruguay squad for the World Cup and retiring from international duty. The fact that his club made this announcement on behalf of the player sparked an online blood feud akin to the Capulets versus the Montagues. Fans from Tier 2/3 nations, along with their Tier 1 supporters, attacked French rugby fans, Castres supporters and Tier 1 loyalists. It was an ugly civil war in the Rain Man world, as friend turned against friend, and fellow national against fellow national. However, at the end of the day, we were all wiser for the education. The situation provides for a clear view for all the moving pieces in this dispute and in the club vs. country row that has bogged down the game for years. So, let’s first look at the immediate situation; then, we’ll examine the great debate. [Please note that I cannot provide names for most quotes because “Iceman032003” along with others are the only names I know some of these Rain Men by, so their comments will be classified as general fan comments.]
R.C. Ortega Case: After his club announced he would be unavailable, the rugby internet almost broke. Allegations of clubs making players choose between international duty and bonuses for opting out were all over the place. Players from Tier 2 countries having to choose between playing for their country or for their club has been a rumored problem in the game for the past few years. For more information on that, check out this May 2015 Planet Rugby interview with former Samoa lock Dan Leo.
Comments in the UK newspaper, The Telegraph, highlighted this:
All the communication we had with Rodrigo was that he desperately wanted to be playing and had a high resolution to play,” Ignacio Chans, a Uruguay spokesman said. “He is one of the best players and very important for the team.”
That message of desire and passion for his country was also relayed by Ortega to The Daily Telegraph in an interview conducted four weeks ago.
“It [qualifying] was amazing,” Ortega said of the victory against Russia. “The final whistle was very special. We did it. Now we can celebrate with guys, family and friends. Lots of people were crying. For us to qualify for the World Cup it is like a big nation winning the World Cup. We win. Now I think all the things we achieve are free. We will enjoy and have fun. It means so much.
The allegation of club pressure circling in the wind quickly garnered support. Why else would a guy who played in the RWC qualifiers for Uruguay and was available a few months back, all of a sudden not be available? Why have Castres been so mum regarding the matter? It was argued by some French Rain Men, however, “that this is the same club that let him play the qualifiers when they were likely to go into Pro D2 next season. This does not add up.”
But it did to an American Rain Man who pointed out that “The only RWC Qualifiers Capó Ortega played in were the 2 legs against Russia played on Sept 27 and Oct 11 2014. He didn’t take part in any other RWCQs. Castres certainly weren’t likely to be relegated at that point in the season last year. They likely didn’t know they’d be in a relegation battle even after a less than stellar start. Now they see they may very well be in a relegation battle this coming season and, in addition to that, they will be without Richie Gray in their second row.”
The apparent death blow was made by an Irish Rain Man who argued, “With Gray gone this coming season and the ‘always the same sides fighting it out in relegation (which Castres was not expected to be part of last year)’ logic suggesting things are going to be tough, how can you not see that circumstances have changed and thus your ‘but they let him last year’ reasoning is flawed?”
So, there it was, correct?!?!
No, not correct. According to Americasrugbynews.com, the reasons behind Capó Ortega’s non-involvement have been confirmed both by the player and the club’s new sporting director Christophe Urios. The 2013 Top 14 champion has instead made the decision to miss the World Cup to stay with his pregnant wife for the birth of their child.
Urios had to comment because he had not escaped the firestorm as many thought the new manager was part of the management team putting pressure on Ortega. In the rugby sub-internet, where fans of Tier 2/3 nations live, a bombshell was released by a Paraguayan rugger and cast the purported victim in the play, Ortega, as more of an anti-hero, Everyone was floored with the release of this analysis:
Pretty amusing all the indignant anger of people on this page about Capó retiring.
Rodrigo Capó actually isn’t a very good example to use when talking about someone committed to playing for their country, as he only bothers playing for Uruguay once every 3 years or so.
Capó has had a pretty chequered history with Uruguay. He started playing for Uruguay in 2000, and moved to France in 2002 where he signed with Castres (who he has played for ever since).
He did play in the 2003 World Cup for Uruguay .. but then had a 3-year absence from Las Teros until 2006 when he played in Uruguay´s RWC 2007 qualifier matches. He then was absent for another three years until 2009 and the RWC qualifiers that year for the 2011 RWC.
During the 2009 Sudamericano, he clashed with URU management (he only arrived in time for their 2nd match) … and that dispute continued for five years until 2014 so he didn’t play a match between 2009 and 2014.
Pablo Lemoine, his former teammate in Los Teros and coach since 2012, was extremely critical of Capó not playing so the dispute continued with him in charge. Lemoine finally managed to coax Capó back to play the final qualifiers for Uruguay in 2014 (although he didn’t play the earlier South American qualifying matches, just the repecharges) and he suddenly became Mr. Uruguayan rugby again, speaking about how proud he was they had qualified, etc., etc.
This year Uruguay has been training and playing intensely to prepare for the RWC. Since February they have been playing matches against regional Argie and South American international sides, as well as USA and Fiji home-based players’ teams and a test against the Pumas, but Capó was given a dispensation to play with his club, on the understanding he would be back for Uruguay once club commitments were finished.
However, this didn’t occur, and he didn’t play for Uruguay during the Tblisi Cup 2 weeks ago, which was after the end of the Top 14. He is still in France and would not have played for Uruguay in their match against the French Barbarians this week either. Ignoring Rodrigo Capó Ortega’s poor track record of turning out for Uruguay, the fact his wife is pregnant and expecting a baby soon is a fairly good reason to retire. A bit poor he is announcing this now, as you would think he could have said something before, but anyway.
From what I can gather from Uruguayan press (Elobservador, Espectador, Ovacion) his wife is French (where he has also lived since 2002) and wants to have her baby in France where they live and where Cape will still be playing in 2015-16 regardless of the RWC.
After the Barbarians game this week Uruguay are having a two-week break, they then travel to the US to Florida for a 2-week training camp (at Pensacola, the same place the Pumas have had pre-RWC fitness camps before the last two RWCs) before going back to Uruguay to prepare for a test against Argentina in early August, then a tour to Japan for 2 weeks in mid-August including two tests, before heading back to Uruguay, then onto Europe for a match against a Basque team before starting the world cup.
So basically, if he wishes to play for Uruguay he would need to be in Uruguay/Japan/Florida from July to September … then with the team in Europe, rather than in France with his wife.
Obviously he has chosen to be with his wife (and new baby) as it is a long way from Uruguay or Florida or Japan to France.
“Mi esposa está embarazada y no quiero dejarla sola en ese momento mágico”, explicó el jugador.
Translation: My wife is pregnant and I don’t want to leave her alone during this magical time – explained the player.
That should end the debate, but it rages on. Tier 2 Rain Men and their advocates fire back with, “He has known she was pregnant for months, why now is it a problem?“; “Sure, lots of European-based Tier 2 and 3 players’ wives get pregnant just before the World Cup. Never happens to Tier 1 players because they’re much too careful.” For those of you who may believe there is more to this story, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. The matter still doesn’t sit right with me, but it seems that once the hero is no longer the hero, the message of inequality becomes more important than the incident.
Implications: If you are wondering why the message of inequality continues, it is because it reopens unhealed wounds in the rugby world. Many sides, each with something to gain from massive change, or the status quo, fight for their side. Here are some of the issues at stake:
–Unified Rugby Calendar: Why does rugby not have a unified calendar so this kind of conflict can be avoided? It has been called for by fans and players for years, but neither hemisphere’s Tier 1 nations appear interested. What other sport has its World Cup showcase that clashes with the regular season? One Rain Man says, “The other big problem in this is the global calendar, both the lack of games against Tier 1 sides for Tier 2/3 unions, and the timing of the RWC when it lands during a NH season.”
–Tier 1 Hypocrisy: The Tier 2 nations have an axe to grind. They go after the Tier 1 nations for RWC scheduling (which we will discuss closer to the RWC), the lack of matches and, of course, sharing the money. Two French Rain Men pointed out, “If the top teams allowed for RWC revenues to be more equitably split, Uruguay (and others) would find it much easier to turn up with their top players. My guess is no Tier 1 union will, however, vote for less money for themselves, and so the closed shop continues. If the top teams can continue to take the same amount and just be honest that causes a problem for the lower ranked teams but tell them ‘tough that’s how it is’. Why a club gets it in the neck for offering someone a contract I don’t know. It’s all very well to complain about WR9 (World Rugby Regulation – requiring clubs to make players eligible for all World Rugby sanctioned matches), but nothing is really going to change until there’s less money gouged by the top national teams.”
–In Defense of France: That last paragraph is part of a trend by French fans to defend their nation and also point out the hypocrisies by other nations when it comes to playing Tier 2 nations and employing Tier 2 players, that France actually leads the way.
Quite simply I think other nations are far far more protectionist and without France there would not be a second tier. Shame that this open borders attitude will mean that France will soon be (if we are not already) second tier but that is another matter. Easy to throw mud but actually France should be congratulated for giving all these players a chance at playing pro rugby. Maybe the richer unions should give a little bit more to the PI’s, South American, etc. teams rather than offering schoolboy rugby scholarships and poaching their players. What is even funnier is that most of these same posters would cry murder if a player like Capó was included in their Pro12 / Super Rugby squads “Taking the place of a homegrown player”.
It’s ironic that France have played more games against PI sides than any other top-tier nation, in the pro-era (which I didn’t make clear). Australia has played Fiji 3 times since 2000, and one was enforced via RWC (the same number as France). Despite being on the doorstep of the PIs and benefiting from their players, you’ve gone from playing them a paltry number of times before 2000 to barely. If we take a country like Argentina (as an example of developing through the rankings), France has played them more than double the number of times Australia has.
–Welcome to Professional Rugby: In defending France, arguments were made that all this the price of professionalism:
The problem is not that the French and English do not provide opportunities for Tier 2 nations, it is that it is done in such an uncontrolled manner. What this means is that SANZAR is an entirely defensive organization (and Pro-12, too). So they are desperately trying to keep hold of players and their entire professional structure. If England and France were under some semblance of collective control, sensible coherent deals could be struck between all the pro theaters, and players from Tier 2 countries could be accommodated and allocated sensibly. The French ‘altruism’ is an entirely unintended consequence of a system that is utterly amoral and out of control…
The argument was both rebutted and supported by another that said: “This is professional rugby and once that line was crossed, pretty much all sense of morality disappeared e.g. 1) the game’s governing body shafting all the smaller nations in the playing schedules at each RWC. 2) the same body doing such an awful job of ‘making the game global’ (read actually expanding the commercial gain for the controlling elite) that Romania turned up for 1 RWC with tatty kit and kitbags that were…… free, supermarket plastic bags.”
The simple and sad reality is that rugby has a lot of “catching up to do” but we are chasing the likes of soccer, and it is only a matter of time before WR becomes another FIFA, F1 or IOC. By that point, I will be limiting my viewing of the game to the local park.
My final thought on this debate is actually summed up by one very brilliant Rain Man:
“I don’t think rugby was especially moral prior to going pro. Frequently no assistance for amateur players injured in the game and unable to work, dismantling of league in places such as France, life bans for any amateur player who played just one game in league, some unions with an insistence of an amateur approach albeit officials stayed in 5-star accommodations, others with back hand payments to some players, and others still who basically were professional but just didn’t call it that, much bigger problems of racism, misogyny and homophobia, bigger problems with class backgrounds… It’s not like we left Utopia to arrive in the modern game.”
That’s it for now! Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Youn, Akweley Okine, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.