Saturday, 5 January 2019

Whither Rugby?

Happy New Year one and all, a year that is likely to be hugely significant for this game of ours.

2019 is of course a World Cup Year, and is therefore a huge opportunity for rugby to showcase all that is good about the game (and the very fact that the tournament is being hosted in Japan - hardly one of rugby's traditional superpowers - is a fine demonstration of the the game's global intentions).

There do remain, however, challenges for rugby to overcome, player safety being to the forefront of issues currently occupying (one hopes) the minds of the powers that be.

In the light of the recent tragic deaths of 2 young players in France and the regular sight of players seemingly constantly leaving the field with significant concussion or other serious injuries, it is clear that rugby is beginning to develop an image problem.

There are those who dismiss such concerns with talk of rugby being a "man's game" but they miss the point, which is that allowing rugby to continue down it's current path will put the future of the game at risk. There have already been calls to ban tackling  in schools and, let's face it, what parent is going to want to actively encourage their offspring to take up rugby after witnessing the brutal nature of the current professional game on TV?

My son plays for the local club Under 16s and even at that level there is a tendency in many teams for physical confrontation at the expense of skill and guile. The size and strength of some of the boys the team faces each week is just frightening.

I have little doubt that the game at most levels has become far more collision based over the years, and it is this area that needs addressing more than any other if we are to reduce the number of serious injuries in the game.

It's almost certainly too late for World Rugby to do anything of significance to address such issues before the eyes of the world focus on Japan in October. All we can do, therefore, is cross our collective fingers and, if we are so inclined, offer up prayers to our deity of choice that the tournament passes without tragic incident.

All that having been said, there is plenty of excitement to look forward to in the coming months including a potentially fascinating Six Nations looming on the horizon. I only hope, in the midst of the unprecedented commercial progress that rugby currently enjoys - the recent £230m investment by CVC Capital Partners in Premiership Rugby being a prime example - that the powers that be have more than one eye on the bigger picture.

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