What Rugby Can Learn From the Tour de France

Cycling's biggest showpiece, indeed potentially the world's biggest if you believe some of the publicity coming out of the Union Cycliste Internationale, is the Tour de France, and in between the Ashes and Wimbledon the Rolling Maul has been sneaking the odd peak and generally been impressed.

In many ways, Rugby is second rate to Le Tour (Rugby, of course, is first rate in every other way) and has a lot to learn. Such as these...

1) Scenery is everything
Newlands Stadium in Cape Town -
just like the Tour de France but without the bikes
With the exception of Table Mountain which sits conveniently behind Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, Rugby has nothing to match the stunning scenery of the Alps, the Pyrenees and the multitudes of chalets in varying stages of decay. Indeed a significant proportion of viewers of Le Tour only watch it for the scenery. The tourism dollars that Le Tour generates are immense and justify the ridiculous costs of staging the event. By comparison, Rugby is a static sport often played at night, so even if there was some scenery, no one would see it. The lesson is that rugby matches need to be played with stunning scenic backdrops. For example, instead of Lions matches being played at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, indoors in Melbourne and at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney, the matches could have been played on Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges and on a floating barge on Sydney Harbour. Day matches of course.

Wilpena Pound - now that's a Rugby venue

2) Make if free
83,000 attended the third Lions test in Sydney and that was supposed to be pretty good. 400 and something thousand attended the matches all-up and the ARU were gushing in their awesomeness, as if they were the attraction themselves. But that is insignificant compared to the 12 to 15 million that are estimated to line the roadsides at Le Tour. So do they come for the gripping athletic prowess of the cyclists, the fierce competition or the camaraderie? Perhaps, but mainly they come because it's free. They don't pay a cent, yet still the UCI, the broadcasters, the organisers, the teams, the sponsors, the advertisers and the French Government all make a tidy profit. The French economy is the biggest winner. Clearly, Rugby should emulate this. Just imagine if a Lions test or Bledisloe Cup match was free. Half-a-million would turn up and it would be an amazing festival of Rugby love. Finding space for them all could be a challenge, but the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Harbour and Wilpena Pound are all pretty big.

3) Drugs Schmugs
No sport has been more affected by drug scandals than cycling. Lance Armstrong may be the face of drugs in cycling (prior to that he was just the face of cycling) but that hasn't impacted on the popularity of the sport, if anything it has grown. Clearly, the old maxim that 'any publicity is good publicity' applies to sport as much as it does to retail, music or fashion. Would it be asking too much to get Ewen McKenzie to slip a few roids into the drinking water of his players at half time? The worst thing that could happen is they get caught. The best thing could happen is they get caught too!

4) Nationalities not required
Teams at the Tour de France are only nominally linked to a country. Australia might have a team there but everyone refers to them as Orica GreenEDGE, not Australia. France, Belgium, Britain, the USA and Luxembourg amongst others also have teams, but they are known mostly by their sponsors' name and not by their nationality. And so it is that Chris Froome rides for Sky, Alberto Contador for Saxo-Tinkoff and Cadel Evans for BMC. Indeed BMC is nominally an American team but it's owned by the Swiss owner of the BMC bicycle manufacturing firm. So who needs the Waratahs? Just call them HSBC or whoever their new sponsor is (and whoever it is would surely be willing to pay a substantial extra amount to get naming rights). The Wallabies would become Qantas. The only drawback is it might get complicated when the New Zealand Super Rugby teams play each other given they all have the same sponsor.

5) It's OK to be thin
Alberto Contador - Legs of steel, arms of twigs
Rugby may claim to be a sport for people of all shapes and sizes but it's been a long time since an anorexic 60kg weakling with prisoner of war eyes lined up in the front row. Cycling makes no such claims, and since power-to-weight ratios are everything in cycling, each rider pretty much starves themselves jockey-style to make themselves as light as possible. So it is that when a rider crosses the finish line he raises his bone thin arms to the sky in celebration, or if they are allowed to eat a piece of chocolate (as Richie Porte was on the first rest day) they tweet loudly about it to express their glee. It certainly doesn't affect the popularity of the riders who are all treated as heroes in their home countries. Will Skelton may weigh two Chris Froomes, but he'll never be as popular in Europe as Froome is. So Rugby needs to embrace its inner weakling. Sure there are 75kg limited competitions but that's not nearly going far enough. 65kg might be more like it.

6) No males look good in lycra
So there's something that cycling can learn from Rugby, though tight fitting Rugby jersies are often not particularly complimentary to the front row fatties.