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Does Pat Spillane Have A Point? - A Look At RTÉ's "Extensive" Rugby Coverage

Does Pat Spillane Have A Point? - A Look At RTÉ's "Extensive" Rugby Coverage
By Mikey Traynor

Pat Spillane used his column in the Sunday World to moan about there being too much rugby on TV, and in doing so sparked a debate that made waves on social media for the past 24 hours.

Some rugby fans were offended, some GAA fans were delighted to see somebody voicing the argument that the auld fella sat in the pub in his club polo has been uttering every weekend for as long as they can remember, but since it seemed to hit a nerve as it did, let's take a look at what he actually said.

Rugby gets extensive TV coverage for what are essentially friendly games against tired teams from the southern hemisphere.

That's pretty much it. It basically amounts to 'I don't care about rugby, so I'd like to see less of it', which aside from being blatantly self-centred and ignorant to the fact that there are a hell of a lot of people on this island who love watching the rugby team, is literally just a moan.

But was it a moan worth making at all?

Despite it only really being one sentence, let's break it down into three parts:

"Extensive coverage."

Each Ireland rugby international shown on RTÉ in November ran for a total of three-and-a-half hours. From 16.30 to 20.00 typically.

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Could this be considered extensive? Perhaps, if you dislike rugby greatly and only have access to RTÉ One and RTÉ Two, then you could see how it would bother someone, but what does this coverage consist of?

To use the Argentina game as the most recent example, we saw roughly 45 minutes of pre-match analysis where Brent Pope, Shane Horgan, and Ronan O'Gara discussed the biggest news in Irish sport this week, that O'Gara had been headhunted by one of the biggest teams in New Zealand, as well as what to expect from the team that was named.

Then the anthems and formalities, and kick-off. The post-match analysis is again in the 45-minute region, so in total if you were to look at this with the purpose of needing to trim it down, 30 minutes could have been taken out, but rugby fans would have lost some of the more interesting points to take away from the day, such as O'Gara on his upcoming adventure.

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When you compare that to the RTÉ's coverage of a football or hurling match, it runs around the same time. Of course, in the summer, you'll see double-headers of live games followed by 'The Sunday Game' which takes up most of the day, but the Six Nations coverage runs that close, and that is not what Spillane is complaining about.

To call the RTÉ's coverage of rugby as 'excessive' is simply incorrect. These are matches that matter to people that aren't Pat Spillane, so they should be afforded the same care and effort in terms of pre and post-match analysis.

"Friendly games"

This appears to be what has really bothered most rugby fans, as Spillane dismissed the Autumn tests as meaningless.

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Are the matches a part of a wider league or tournament system? No. Does this render them unimportant? No.

International tests exist because rugby is not long from the days where the Five Nations was the only tournament we would compete in, so tours were arranged to 'test' our skills against the best sides in the world. They still hold that tradition, and nations still take great pride in wins and pain in defeat, not to mention the implications that results have on world rankings, which matters a lot when it comes to the World Cup cycle.

The fact that matches do generate interest despite not being in a wider competition is something that should be admired, not mocked.

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The game against Fiji may not have qualified in this regard, but it did get a chance to introduce the nation to the next crop of young talents making a push for a regular spot. It was also an entertaining game that the vast majority of those who watched enjoyed.

Also, imagine scoffing at the idea of a rugby friendly and then taking an active interest in 'international rules'? That is literally a chance for us to see how our lads match up against the Aussies in a hybrid sport that is really an excuse for a good schemozzle.

The point being - especially in Ireland - we want to see how we measure against bigger countries and nations. We're obsessed with it, and in November - for one month of the year - we invite teams from around the world to come to Dublin and play us.

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"Tired teams from the southern hemisphere"

This is actually Spillane's best point, and even then Argentina making the score look better with a late flurry makes it a more difficult one.

We're asking teams to travel to Dublin as part of a wider European tour, changing hotels, training pitches, and all of the extra stress that the logistics bring, but this is part and parcel of top level sport. The players wouldn't ever use it as an excuse, because they know it works both ways when our boys tour their neck of the woods.

The fact of the matter is, regardless of Spillane's happiness, the public interest is there.

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The numbers are there to support it, this Irish team is bloody good, and people want to watch them play because we have a good chance of winning every game we play in. In what other sport can we say that?

So, the big question; does Pat Spillane have a point?

No, not really, it was just a moan.

If you were genuinely pissed off at his comments, then ask yourself... Why? It may be due to the fact that he is a public figure of interest, so you fear that his opinion might catch on and start an uprising to get rugby off the TV, but that will never happen.

Or, it's just counter-moaning, and getting upset over nothing. It's the stuff you'll see from soccer fans on social media, who when their team lose get all angry and start listing the failures of other teams. Only this time there was no team that lost, just a moan for the sake of it.

Have we given Spillane's comments more attention than we should have? Yes, but clearly this is a discussion people want to have, so there is a debate to be had.

Also, slow news day, lads.

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