I stopped buying the Sunday Times a while ago because its chief rugby correspondent, one Stephen Jones, refused to fully recognize the success of my beloved England rugby team. No matter how low the sweet chariot was swung Mr. Jones (of Wales) would continue to say it was still far from acceptable.
I rationally considered my approach and decided that, as our fortunes have improved, on balance it was better for me to enjoy the remaining 66% of rugby reportage than ignore it. But whilst Messrs. Dallaglio and Barnes see improvements and areas of weakness it seems that the intervening years haven’t improved Mr. Jones’ approach. He claims, somewhat simplistically, that England should be the leading team in the world due to its size and resources available.
This flies in the face of several facts:
- New Zealand (GDP $200bn) has been the number one rugby playing nation in the world more or less since rankings began;
- USA (GDP $1,500bn) provides a rugby team that is ranked 18th; and
- There is always exactly the same number of players on the pitch for each side.
Such simplistic approaches to life are widespread, frequently seductive, but no more useful for their ubiquity. Even complex theories need to be realistic. As Michael Heseltine said of Tony Benn – “He has these extraordinary theories into which he can fit all the facts, and this gives him a great flow, like a huge river which is unmistakably coming from somewhere and going somewhere, but the longer you listen, the more you realise he is trying to push water uphill.”
When making suggestions, I prefer the Barnes/Dallaglio approach, acknowledging the current situation and finding areas of improvement that are achievable. Last year I was invited to discuss ways of improving UK exports, (the equivalent in rugby terms of spinning the ball out wide). I proposed, to Grant Thornton amongst others, replicating the successful R&D tax credit as an export tax credit, which would give tax relief for 150% of expenditure in overseas subsidiaries, up to £1m. I’m pleased to say that they must have seen that this was of some merit because their pre-Budget submission includes such a recommendation.
I hope George Osborne takes note, and shows Mr. Jones and others what can be done, in a balanced realistic way, to utilize our considerable resources. Then even if we don’t win the rugby World Cup in England in 2015 we will be able to export our players more effectively to the 2019 version in Japan (applies to Wales too!).