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November 12, 2010

Posted on 11/12/2010

Most influential people in rugby?

"And more, much more than this, I did it my way" - IRB chief exec Mike Millar steps up to the mic at the Rugby Expo © Getty Images

The latest Rugby Expo - a meeting of rugby business minds - was staged in London earlier this week with some of the sport's leading players - largely off-the-field - dropping in to share their wisdom with each other.

As part of the proceedings, visitors were asked to name who they thought were the most influential people in rugby (I guess both Union and League going by the results) with the result being their Top 20 Most Influential People in Rugby. An interesting list that is sure to spark some kind of reaction and debate.

Here's their top three:
1) Bernard Lapasset (IRB)
2) Sir Ian McGeechan (Bath and former Scotland and Lions Coach)
3) Jonny Wilkinson (Player - Toulon and England)

The rest were listed alphabetically:
Adam Crozier, ITV
Barney Francis, Sky Sports
David Gallop, National Rugby League, Australia
Francois Pienaar
Gareth Thomas, Crusaders RL
Graham Henry, New Zealand Coach
Greg Peters, SANZAR
John Steele, RFU
Martin Johnson, England
Martin Snedden, RNZ 2011
Max Guazzini, Owner Stade Francais
Mick Cleary, The Daily Telegraph
Paddy O’Brien, Head of the IRB Referees Board
Reg Clark, Rhino Rugby
Richard Lewis, RFL
Richie McCaw, New Zealand
Stephen Jones, The Sunday Times

The list obviously has a certain UK bias, which will grate with many, but it's a starting point at least. Some inclusions are obvious - IRB boss Lapasset, SANZAR CEO Peters, referees' boss O'Brien and World Cup organiser Sneddon - but there are also a fair number of high-profile omissions.

I can understand McCaw's presence as arguably the best player in the world - but no reference to his management agency Essentially who look after him and his All Blacks colleague Dan Carter among others? Surely if you represent the game's best talent you wield a significant amount of influence?

On the subject of players - there is no mention of players' union boss Damian Hopley, who also heads up the International Rugby Players' Association. If you are in charge of ensuring players' welfare then it is fair to assume you hold some sway on the game in general.

Jonny Wilkinson's star may be on the wane but the wallet that took him - and a few other big names - to the south of France is still very much a big player - step forward Mourad Boudjellal.

And while the Rugby Football Union's status as the richest governing body is not in question - surely the strength of the All Blacks brand warrants the inclusion of NZRU chief executive Steve Tew? From the chief executive ranks, there is also an argument that IRB No.2 Mike Millar is equally important when it comes to shaping the game.

Despite their increasing investment in the game, ESPN appear yet to have registered widely in the market and are absent but they are joined on the outer by the BBC - once the bedrock of rugby coverage in the UK. Sky's possession of the Heineken Cup and England internationals makes them a shoo-in for the list and ITV's recent World Cup deal leaves them well-placed also.

And while Rhino Rugby's name is welcome in the list, you would have thought the big hitters of adidas and Nike would carry more clout? One final thought - Judge Jeff Blackett has been a key figure in the sport of late and the sanctions he hands down reverberate around the game.

As already mentioned, this is a great talking point but the list suffers from a UK-focus due largely to the venue, the clientele and their collective exposure to the wider game. But it has definitely got us thinking at ESPN HQ so stay tuned for our definitive list in the near future.

Got any suggestions? Let us know!



Posted Jack on 11/13/2010

I count at least 5 kiwis. Considering the input NZ has to rugby, fair representation I say.

Posted Kiwi Paul on 11/18/2010

The list is a fair starting point, tho' I don't disagree it has a UK bias. However why Stephen Jones? He never makes any sense. Is he there 4 comic light relief?

He did make me laugh when he described the Grand Slam winning All Blacks of 2008 as the worst All Black team ever. The joke being what did that make the 4 Home Nations? They not only couldn't beat this terrible team but collectively failed to score a try against them.

And this fuss over the Haka. No mention about the Samoan, Fijian or Tongan challenges. I guess it's only a problem if the team doing the challenge wins all the time.

They must be cheats. It could not possibly be that they are a good team.

Oh and when D.Carter takes J.Wilkinson's record against Ireland will he make the list?

What about 1995 RWC and Louis Luyt and his gold watch? Or Suzy and the funny tasting coffee. Or is that too long ago?

Or Wayne Barnes and that great display of refereeing during France v AB's RWC 2007?

I guess I have a Kiwi bias...

Posted Matt on 11/19/2010

Agreed with Kiwi Paul. SJ is an over-rated, puffed up hack.

Additionally there must be some representation for 7's rugby here surely given it's appearance at the Olympics soon? Or is that under the remit of the IRB?

Posted Quison on 11/19/2010

I know it’s not illegal to smoke your socks but I’m sure the stuff that the writer soaked it in before he smoked it has to be. This list is a laugh for every name mentioned. Jonny Wilkinson one of the most influential people in world rugby?! O.M.G. - hahahahahaha

Posted Scott (Kiwi) on 11/19/2010

I laugh at the fact it is so far been the Englanders' that are complaining at only us with the Haka, I mean there are other teams who do Hakas like Samoa, Tonga and etc. Writers in England who write band comments and suggestions about our Haka only do it because they lost and for the World Media attention after they have lost the game.

Posted John S on 11/23/2010

In no particular Stuart Barnes, John O'Neill, Oregon Hoskins, Steve Tew, Sean Fitzpatrick, Rob Andrew and so on.

Posted Andrew on 11/26/2010

I agree, where is Dan Carter? How does Wilkinson make it ahead of Dan the Man?

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Graham Jenkins joined Scrum in 1999 and took over the reins for a second time in 2006. His journalistic career has also seen him work for BBC Sport and IMG and he currently lives with his family in Farnham. Graham Jenkins

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