Imagine you are presenting a product you hope to sell to a huge corporate in a lucrative new market that is also notoriously insular.
You’ve spent years developing the product, you have different qualities of it for different markets and even the corporate you are pitching to has their own, less-impressive version of what you’re selling.
Yours is bigger and better with all the best technology available to you from the best research and development departments in the world. It’s a no-brainer – they will love it; they’ve got to love it, because you arrogantly believe that whatever you’re selling is better than what they have.
So you don’t pitch with your best product, but your mid-range stuff, and you don’t try to include their version of your commodity in the spiel. And then you’re surprised by a lukewarm reception and a ‘thanks, don’t call us we’ll call you,’ response.
That’s exactly what happened when rugby tried to break new ground in the supposed sleeping giant that is the United States of America.
World Rugby sanctioned a game, put on by a marketing company that few have heard of, between two sides that have no real connection to America, in Washington DC, a city that is hardly the sporting headquarters of the east coast, let alone the country.
The Test between the Springboks and Wales was a shambles from the beginning, which eventually had to be ‘saved’ by World Rugby bailing out the promoter to make sure it went ahead because there was no interest from ‘fans’ in Washington.
The match, played between two under-strength teams that squeezed the contest into hopelessly busy schedules, was a predictably turgid spectacle.
Those 20,000 or so Americans who did venture to the 45,000-seater Robert F Kennedy Stadium on Saturday, would have left wondering what this ‘product’ was all about.
Conditions were difficult, but both sides played as though they’d been assembled on the flight to Washington, and in some ways they had. As a rugby sales pitch to America it was the equivalent of sending a mass email promising untold riches if you just handed over your banking details.
World Rugby chief executive officer Brett Gosper was so exasperated he tweeted: “An exhibition game with little exhibited in the first half. Just 40 minutes left to win a few American fans.”
You could almost hear the sounds of weeping from the World Rugby boardroom as millions of imagined dollars from the great expansion into America evaporated.
Which brings us to the actual match. Did the Springboks and coach Rassie Erasmus gain anything from this ludicrous exercise?
Obviously SA Rugby earned a few rand – R9m apparently – but at what cost to tarnishing the Springboks’ already corroded image?
A third defeat in succession against Wales will forever be in the record books. Rassie Erasmus lost his first game as head coach – only the second Bok coach after Allister Coetzee in the professional era to have that dubious record. Erasmus was also the first professional-era coach to oversee his first match away from home though.
And 11 players who made Test debuts, and captain Pieter-Steph du Toit, will forever have their respective debuts tarnished by this loss. And why? Because they went on an almost-impossible mission, given the time constraints, to do rugby’s bidding in a market where there is no evidence to suggest the sport will be anything more than a niche product.
Erasmus is immediately on the back foot with England looming and, even if they had won, he would’ve been under pressure because of the timing of the Wales game.
The only positives to take out of the entire debacle were that some individuals showed they have Test futures. Wing Makazole Mapimpi, centre Andre Esterhuizen, lock Jason Jenkins and hooker Akker van der Merwe looked worthy of another go.
Scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl, clearly kicking under instruction, has something about him and established players such as Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw and Jesse Kriel will be in the mix for England.
But we knew that already. We also knew that the USA wouldn’t lap this game up. So, despite travelling to the opposite side of the world, we learnt nothing.