Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
World World



The three fixable factors behind Eddie Jones' England stagnation

Eddie Jones' England weren't far away from making the grade.

RugbyPass+ Home

'England were stupid... that has killed the Lions tour': Willie John McBride's lament for modern-day rugby

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Legendary British and Irish Lions skipper Willie John McBride has savaged modern-day rugby, claiming it has become an unedifying mixture of union, league and American football that is being wrecked by an injury crisis and the dominance of money.


Captain of the famed 1974 Lions that conquered South Africa, McBride was capped on 17 occasions for the tourists on five separate tours while he also won 63 Ireland caps before calling it quits in 1975. 

Now aged 80, he has pulled no punches in the foreword for Saving Rugby Union, the newly published book written by Ross Reyburn and published by Y Lolfa which tackles the myriad of problems affecting the better development of professional rugby.        

Video Spacer

Look what’s coming on RugbyPass!
Video Spacer
Look what’s coming on RugbyPass!

Aside from confronting the lack of space and the high injury rate in rugby currently, Lions king McBride also bemoaned the mechanics of the breakdown, the crooked feed at scrum time, the over-prevalence of replacements and the ease at which players can change nationality.  

McBride wrote: “Rugby today is nothing like the game I played. It is a mixture of rugby union and rugby league – which is a huge influence on rugby union, with players lined up across the field against each other – and American football, with the obstruction and blocking. 

“In the modern game, you can theoretically keep the ball for 40 minutes with endless phases. In the amateur era, once you went to ground you had to release the ball and get away. Players could then drive over the ball rucking the ball.


“Today, when guys go to ground they still hold onto the ball and actually place it back with their hands. It enables sides to retain the ball for phase after phase as it is so difficult for defenders to get hold of the ball at the breakdown. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

“There were never any serious injuries in rucks because you really had to release the ball and get away to avoid being raked back. If you held onto the ball you would be penalised.

“Today there are more and more pile-ups with knees and elbows hitting other players, causing injuries. Referees blow up for a scrum when the ball is buried in a pile of bodies. This simply wouldn’t happen in a ruck situation when I played.       

“At the breakdown, I just don’t understand why people are tackling players whop haven’t got the ball. It’s not sport – they are just charging into people to take them out. Surely the law says you cannot tackle a player who hasn’t got the ball?


“Any game is all about space. The modern game is all about closing down space with players lining across the pitch because of phase rugby. The one thing that strikes me is why did they change our game?” 

Addressing the increasing injury rate, Lions legend McBride added: “There is an injury crisis in rugby. You look at every international game that is played. How many do you see that are injury-free? I believe every player should be playing for 80 minutes unless he has to leave the field injured. I played for 14 years and never left the field in my life. 

“I’ve seen young guys from academies who have been told: ‘You’re too light. You have to put on two stones if you are to be successful.’ Kids are growing. They are fed all these food supplements I call drugs and doing all these weights.

“Their bones can’t take what their muscles are demanding. This is wrong. The one thing I was taught when I was growing up was to be supple. They are muscle-bound and more prone to injuries. 

“It is terrible seeing all these people running off and on the pitch in an international. Recently a player was brought on with a minute to go – it could make no difference to the result. I once asked my old adversary Colin Meads how would you feel if they took you off with 20 minutes to go? I can’t repeat what he said, but it was more or less ‘you can stuff the game’.

“I also find it disturbing the ease with which players can just switch their national allegiance. It devalues international rugby. When Wales defeated Ireland 25-7 in the 2019 Six Nations, all the Welsh points were scored by two New Zealanders, Gareth Anscombe and Hadleigh Parkes. That can’t be right. 

“If you play for Ireland, you should have Irish blood coursing through your veins. the residential qualification should be ten years and that would end players playing for a country when they have no immediate family connection.

“The one thing the Irish Rugby Union got right is that they own the players. England were stupid, as the RFU allowed the Premiership clubs to take control of the players. That has killed the Lions tour, which is very close to my heart and was a very big part of my life… I find it sad.

“The game today is all about money… I was so lucky to play in my era with so many great players.”













Join free and tell us what you really think!

Join Free
RUGBYPASS+ How Dan Sheehan became one of the world's best hookers How Dan Sheehan became one of the world's best hookers