Ex-Fiji Sevens head coach Ben Ryan has opened up in an honest and frank interview with The Guardian, blasting the international game for its treatment of Tier two nations and referees, as well as wider concerns of where the game is going.
“If rugby were a company people would be comparing it to an Enron,” he said, “It’s completely dysfunctional.”
After Japan’s coach revealed that his players will receive just £13 per day to represent their country ahead of their test against England, Ryan has first-hand experience of the same disparities from coaching Fiji, comparing the situation for Tier two nations not far away from ‘slave labour’.
“It’s not far off slave labour,” he explained.
“If you are playing somewhere where the crowd is over a certain figure you should get some of the money. At the moment it’s a case of ‘We’ll fly you over and give you a nice few days in the Lensbury Club’ but that’s where it stops.”
The lack of preparation available for those nations is another barrier to improved performance.
“Quite a few people were critical of Fiji in Scotland on Saturday but they’ve had no time together. They and Samoa have players playing on almost every continent. You can’t prepare in four or five days having played a club game the previous week.”
Ryan fears the game is becoming a bash-fest, with dangerous areas of the game like rucks ignored by referees despite the high-impact collisions occurring at the breakdown. With the size and athleticism ever increasing, the load on players is going to take its toll on their bodies.
“There’s so much grey in the lawbook. There are at least three laws – collapsing rucks, not staying on your feet wilfully and shoulders below your hips – we just ignore. I think it’s incredibly dangerous. Almost every weekend now there’s something. How do we expect teams, players and supporters to understand our game when we’ve got all this going on?”
The game at the grassroots level is mirroring the top, with winning rucks taking priority over core skills. He revealed that even referees in the Top 14, France’s professional league, are being told to ‘not bother’ with policing the breakdown.
“The school kids are looking at what the top players are doing. At the moment the perception is that the way to win professional games is through blunt-force trauma, winning ruck after ruck and going through 20 or 30 phases.
“I went to one county age-group finals day and there were yellow pads everywhere. I didn’t see any long passing skills, it was just boom, boom, boom.
“In every single ruck, there’s something going on. In the Top 14, the referees are being told: ‘Don’t even bother refereeing the breakdown, just see what happens.’ At the moment it’s just a mess. They’ve let it run away with itself.
He is happy to speak out over the direction of the game and hopes it won’t lead to a ‘brawn over brain’ contest. At the moment, the decision-makers aren’t looking at the big picture.
“I don’t think people are looking at the full picture. You can’t put a number on everything but we know the game is going in the wrong direction. There are still too many stakeholders and too many invested decisions. They need some independent consultants to say: ‘This is what is best for the game.’”
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