Former England captain Phil Vickery believes Joe Marler’s decision to quit international rugby is a “red flag” that rugby cannot ignore and warns the sport is at a tipping point.
World Cup winner Vickery has close links the with grassroots of the sport in England and while Marler has focussed attention on the elite end of the game, the former Rugby Football Union council member is convinced the current problems affect all areas of the sport.
Marler has opted out of international rugby after winning 59 caps to spend more time with his family. The treadmill that is professional rugby is constantly asking the players to give more to the game. His decision comes as World Rugby is addressing the tackle to try and reduce concussion injuries along with trying to sort out the global calendar as the sport attempts to reduce the burden on the players.
Vickery, who won 73 England caps and played in five British and Irish Lions tests, said: “Is it going to take 10 or 15 Joe Marler’s before we have a proper debate about where the game is going and pressures being put on the players? It is going to take something as horrible as a player strike like the one I was involved with the England team in 2000?
“Joe’s decision is a red flag and you have to ask is the current England regime and environment doing enough for players and their families? Let’s have a debate about how we can make things better because obviously, something is fundamentally very wrong. Joe retiring sends a signal to my kids and all the boys and girls taking part in rugby that everything is not right and alarm bells should be sounding. It still makes me emotional thinking about playing for my country and I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do what Joe has done.
“There have to be some tough conversations by those people who are in charge of the game because it is the players who are suffering and their voices along with those of the supporters who help fund the game need to be heard. I am not interested in just throwing around grenades, I am passionate about the sport I was so privileged to play but I go around the country and see what the real situation is and the guys in power need to act.
“Joe is his own person, but are we at a point where we are putting our heroes under so much pressure that they make this kind of decision. Is it right that we put the players through this kind of emotional pressure and where are we going with it? I get the fact that we need games to fund the sport. We need the Lions, England internationals and the club game but the grassroots is struggling at a time when the RFU are making redundancies affecting those who are helping the game in the regions.”
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Marler will continue to play for Harlequins but at just 28-years-old he has walked away from test rugby and Vickery asks if those in charge of rugby have a real understanding of the dangers facing the game. Vickery added: “The biggest problem is that no one is actually dealing with all the issues affecting our game and I hear too many interviews where those in charge are saying everything is great. I am someone who champions my sport because I love it. However, I know that as soon as you mention what are seen as negative points, you get shot down.
“We do need to integrate the North and South international seasons and give opportunities to the second tier nations and it’s time to park historical stances and views. I am not claiming to know the answers but I want to know if real conversations about the issues in rugby are taking place. I don’t believe they are. The players and supporters are the heart of our game and I don’t believe their voices are being heard.”
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