Former Ireland captain Keith Wood believes the dramatic impact of Covid-19 on rugby has presented the sport with the chance to instigate fundamental changes resulting in the professional and amateur games operating under different rules.
Wood, the 58-cap Ireland hooker who also appeared in five Lions Test games, remains fiercely passionate about the sport. He claims the unprecedented pressures currently facing rugby offer an opportunity to accept the pro game is now too complex to be played at grassroots levels.
“You can have rugby that is complex enough for professional sport and a slightly refined version for amateur sport and people could move from one to the other without losing a pathway,” said Wood to RugbyPass.
“Rugby was set up to be played – not just to be professional. While I’m big a fan of the professional game we need to look after the grassroots. There is quite a vast change between professional and amateur rugby and I don’t necessarily believe you should have the same laws for professional and amateur rugby.
“Holding a guy to the highest point in a lineout is fine when you know the guys have been training for three years to do it, but it’s not so great when a guy turns up for the thirds! It’s not the same. There could be an amateur law book because of the complexity of the game.
“Twenty-five years ago the game wasn’t as complex and you rushed into the scrum – and it wasn’t safe by the way. Lifting in the lineout didn’t exist and while the game is bigger, stronger and faster, it’s a lot safer but incredibly complex. I have never been a fan of rucking going out of the game and there are too many hands in the ruck now.
“We are at a pivotal point in rugby’s history, as is most sport. World Rugby is talking about rugby getting bigger and being in every country but that is something I don’t agree with.
“The (15s) game is too complex. Sevens is a game that is a really good participation sport and you can bring it to people who have never played the sport and it makes sense. We’re not football, which is the most magnificent game because of its simplicity. It’s an easy game to understand.
“It can be played with the highest level of beauty at an unbelievable standard, but you can also play it at 60 having a kick around. You cannot do that with rugby because it’s too complicated, so when Bill Beaumont (World Rugby chairman) comes out and says he wants to make the game simpler, I don’t want it simpler because I love the game for what it is.
“We do need to change things at the moment if we do want to play rugby and I fully support change if it’s safe, but I like complexity. Rugby’s uniqueness is that it’s a game for all shapes and sizes and I’m a fan of that.”
The ex-Harlequins and Munster hooker has real fears that the financial implications of the current sporting lockdown will send clubs to the wall. Despite those concerns, he believes rushing back into action isn’t the answer.
“It depends on the amount of risk involved. In Europe, if we end up with a load of Covid cases from interacting or training and it stops again, then it will be far more disruptive. It’s trying to follow government advice but the problem for Europe is the advice is slightly different. In Ireland, there isn’t any training because rugby is considered a more at-risk sport.
“I do believe we are going to end up with a bit of a hotch-potch but that is a damn sight better because the fear is that we could lose a lot of sporting teams over this. It includes unions, Gallagher Premiership and Guinness PRO14 teams because it is putting so much sport under huge financial pressure.
One step forward for the provinces, quite a few backwards financially if Andy Farrell's Ireland are left idle https://t.co/yo4VrheIwt
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 22, 2020
“I’m not scaremongering and we are looking at three different things here. Professional sport and the need not to pay back large sums of money to broadcasters and sponsors, so you need matches. Secondly, the non-professional game and how they would play, and I would modify that game very heavily. And thirdly getting people into the grounds. We just don’t know where that is at the moment.
“For the domestic game, you could opt to go for a series of tens rugby matches where there are short scrums and lineouts with limited amounts of interaction. For the professional game, I’m not sure but tens is closer than sevens because it is a modified version of 15s.
“World Rugby can say whatever they like but if that isn’t allowed in Ireland we won’t be doing it. We could end up with a huge amount of non-travel competition and I feel for the administrators in rugby because the sport has always been on a financial edge and it has put them into a very difficult position.”
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