The Next Big Leaks Case Is In Rugby, Maybe

Two rugby playing brothers are embroiled in perhaps the silliest leaks case yet

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Jan 18, 2017 at 1:36 PM ET

On New Year’s Eve, brothers Tom and Luke Arscott met in a hotel room as part of a family gathering. Such a mundane note would normally pass unnoticed except that the pair are professional rugby players whose Avivia Premiership teams—the Sale Sharks for Tom, Bristol Rugby for Luke—were set to play the next day.

Bristol would win that match, 24-23, with neither brother participating. Tom was not part of Sale’s game-day roster; Luke was a Bristol reserve who did not play. Nothing to see here, right?

Well, Tom’s Sale teammates weren’t so sure. They reportedly notified the club’s director of rugby, Steve Diamond, who has suspended Tom for an alleged information leak pending an investigation by the Rugby Football Union.

“When you sign a professional contract, team information is sacrosanct to the team’s performance and that can’t be discussed with opposition teams,” Diamond said, per the BBC. “That’s the top and bottom of it.”

Bristol’s interim head, Mark Tainton, confirmed that the brothers met but denied any wrongdoing, saying, “From what we are aware, we are entirely confident that Bristol Rugby has done nothing wrong and we have not acted in a way that is against the spirit and values of rugby.

“Tom and Luke met on New Year’s Eve at the team hotel – which is not unusual for families living in different parts of the country. However, following the conversation between the brothers, nothing was said or passed to the Bristol coaches of any sporting value, nor did it change the strategy in which we approached the game in any way, shape or form.”

The Telegraph reported more detail, particularly that the information allegedly shared centered on Sale’s use of a 13-man line-out, though its use of the tactic was apparently not detrimental in the match.

It is, of course, impossible to know what was or was not said when the Arscotts toasted New Year’s Eve, but this example illustrates the heightened importance of information in sport and how obsessively secretive professional clubs and high-level college teams have gotten—in all sports and on all continents.

Many franchises are too paranoid to acknowledge even basic facts for fear of tipping a competitive advantage, even when actual transgressions are rare. One notable recent exception, however, was the so-called #WakeyLeaks scandal in which a Wake Forest football radio broadcaster, Tommy Elrod, shared leaked game plans to a few opponents.

The preponderance of data and analysis in preparation has generated heaps more pertinent information. Also, there appears to be increasing fraternization among elite athletes because they developed together (think AAU or youth national teams) or currently train at the same facilities catering to their specific needs or run in the same circles, owing to common interests and tax brackets. All of these factors conflate to increase the risk of improper info sharing, even if unintentionally done so.

Relatedly, opponents can glean strategies more easily now, too, because of widespread video and data research—a point that even Sale’s Diamond noted.

“If you do your own analysis, you don’t need the information,” he said, per the Telegraph, before adding, “In the same breath, there’s an element of trust you need and loyalty.

Again, the particular case of the Arscott rugby brothers will hopefully be settled by the investigation, but there could also be another mitigating factor in the outcome: The losing side, Sale, that complained about its player leaking information, is in the midst of a 10-game losing streak with this particular loss coming at the hands of last-place Bristol.