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'Media frenzy sits around relegation in most English sport... but is it good for young player development?'

By Chris Jones

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New Zealander Chris Boyd is struggling to come to terms with England’s obsession with relegation in sport. In his first season as Northampton’s director of rugby, the Super Rugby winner with the Hurricanes takes his sixth-placed Saints to relegation-threatened Newcastle on Friday night knowing that host club Falcons are facing a loss of Premiership status that would hit them hard in the pocket.


There is an ongoing debate over ring-fencing the Premiership to remove the massive ramifications of relegation which can significantly affect tactics and selection. And the relentless demands of the Premiership and European rugby has been a significant challenge for Boyd who did not have to deal with relegation when he was operating in New Zealand.

He told RugbyPass: “A couple of weeks ago there was a really pivotal game between Gloucester and Bath for the top of the ladder which everybody ignored because the total focus was on Newcastle versus Leicester. The media frenzy that sits around relegation in my mind, from a positive and negative, has an effect on the drama and theatre that plays out at the end of most English sport to be honest.

“There is a really interesting question around whether that is good for sport in general. There is no doubt it is good for television and for drama, but is it good for the development of young players? From a freedom of playing point of view, the answer is no. From a learning how to scrap your way out of a tough situation and dig in and grind out some victories, it probably does.

“Those people with higher pay scales than me will determine which way you want to go, but there is no doubt the relegation threat across sport in England – and other places – does have an impact on what is seen as important. I might have been a little bit lucky or a little bit naïve, but we haven’t ever talked about relegation at the club.

“I can have empathy for Newcastle and the other four or five teams who could potentially be relegated and we’re talking about those teams rather than the ones trying for top four or top six. It’s not a pleasant place to be where relegation is a threat and it can bring out the best in people and also the worst. If you can get through that with your team intact – even if you get relegated – you have done a great job.


“While I can have a great deal of empathy for Newcastle’s plight, we are going there with our own agenda and that is to win. It’s so tight that after the weekend we may be up to fourth place or in seventh or eighth and the margin for error is very small.  We’re going to have to play well to get points out of Newcastle.”

Boyd will not get England captain Dylan Hartley back from long-term injury for at least another week and has needed to blood players who have come through the club’s academy to cover for missing stars.

He added: “Dylan is really close to playing and it’s a pretty good bet he will play in the Worcester or Exeter games – or both. He’s feeling pretty frisky and he is the type of guy, mentally and physically very tough, who can drop right back in and deliver a performance.


“The whole year has been a work in progress and we have had some flat games, but by and large the line on the graph has been up with three games still to go.

“Whether our season has been a success or not will be determined by those games. I won’t score myself before the end of an exam and when we finish our place on the log will determine the success of the season. From a performance point of view, we have had some good ones and also some bloody awful performances. That tells me that consistency is something we have to work on.”

WATCH: Part two of The Academy, the RugbyPass documentary series on Leicester Tigers

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'Media frenzy sits around relegation in most English sport... but is it good for young player development?'