Former England fullback Ben Foden believes that for England to have sustained World Cup success, players must simply play less.
The 33-year-old is set to serve as a player-coach for the recently established Rugby United New York in America’s Major League Rugby competition, and is looking forward to a decreased workload, something he feels English rugby can learn from.
“In the last couple of years I always felt that I was going on to the field at about 80 per cent,” Foden told The Daily Mail. “I had two very bad knee injuries and an ankle injury. I always had a niggle of some sort. You never feel 100 per cent.
“I always say to young professionals coming through that they need to be more selfish. If you’re not 100 per cent then you shouldn’t be on the field. Your body is your job. You’ve got to look after yourself.
“I have never done that as a player. I always wanted to be on the field, so if someone said, “Are you alright?” I’d just nod my head and get on with it.
“That is really common in the game and some coaches put you in an awkward position. As a player, you should always want to play, so if a coach asks if you want to play, you answer “yes”, if you’re 10 per cent fit or 100 per cent fit.
“For me, it should be on the doctors or physios to say you can’t play, but that is really difficult for them to do. It is difficult for whoever carries that burdens, but in terms of player welfare and longevity of careers, it is massively important. A line has to be drawn.”
Foden weighed in on talks of a potential extension on the northern hemisphere season set to take place from 2020.
‘There’s been talk of an 11-month season, but that cannot happen. It is madness. Rugby is very unique in the fact that it’s a fast-paced, contact sport. If you look at all other major contact sports, their seasons are a lot shorter.”
“If England want to compete with New Zealand, something has to change,” Foden said. “New Zealand’s seasons are shorter. And how are Ireland so good, with only four provincial teams to pick from? Their players are well managed and looked after, that’s why.
“The RFU won’t allow players to be picked for England if they go abroad – which makes sense to protect the domestic game – but it means that they are forced to stay in probably the toughest league in rugby.
“If we want to be World Cup-winners and not just as a one-off, but back-to-back like New Zealand have done in the last two World Cups, changes need to be made. You need your fittest and best players on the field at all times.”
Foden last played for England in 2013 and has made 34 test appearances. He last played in England in 2018, notching his 250th appearance for Northampton last year.
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