Routes to top now more ring-fenced than ever
THE dawn of professionalism carried untold fears and worries for our dear old game.
No one – including the RFU – had any clue what was in store.
All the talk suggested a more egalitarian approach, with a loosening of public and grammar schools' grip on creating the top players.
The pro game was meant for the everyman, not the posh.
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So much for the fraternity of revolution!
Independent schools' old boys dominate the international ranks like never before.
Throw in the new breed of Hartpury College-style finishing schools, and the routes to the top are more ring-fenced than ever.
The arms races escalate week on week, with clubs arranging increasingly extensive links with these pre-academy alma maters.
Even the schools employ the most decorated recently-retired professionals: think Andy Robinson at Colston's Collegiate College in Bristol.
Another credible pro-era fear was a metamorphosis into rugby league, whereby the scrum disappeared as a contest.
The game has aped much from league, but thankfully the scrum is more potent than ever, as the players become bigger, stronger, more powerful and frighteningly dynamic.
The big 'steal' from the 13-a-side game has been defensive structures. League coaches have been welcomed with open arms.
Players could always tackle, but that does not mean that they could defend.
Professionalism has thrown an iron net over much of the attacking game, to the point where some give up trying to beat them altogether.
All praise to Gloucester, because they will have a go with ball in hand and there is nothing sterile about their go-forward attitude.
The biggest rugby league similarity, however, has been in the shape of the players.
League tends to have a hooker and a scrum-half who are smaller than the rest, then you have 11 others who all look as if they could play anywhere.
Rugby union is going that way, save the front-row and scrum-half.
All packs used to have a beanpole as their middle jumper, but this lanky giant has virtually nowhere to go.
The back-five are all back-row forwards in everything but number, and all can jump.
So why have an exceptionally tall player who will struggle to get into a low, dynamic position with very long levers to bend?
Such a body type will soon become a handicap, consigning the salmon-like leaper to the television archives.
Not so long ago union players were courted by the other code.
How the worm has turned. Five, maybe ten more years, and we may know if it has been for the better.