It’s been a hell of a year for rugby on the pitch to cap off a decade where the game has grown significantly but if there’s one area we need to address in particular over the next 12 months it’s the issue of respect.

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Of course, there have always been examples of individuals and teams overstepping the mark but the number of incidents reflecting badly on rugby that have occurred in the past few weeks alone is worrying for the sport.

It could be coincidence but it definitely looks like a trend and one that needs to be addressed if we are to be able to look back in another decade’s time and still be proud of rugby’s values.

Billy Vunipola telling Wayne Barnes he’s a “grown ass man” happened in the final game of 2019 and is exactly the kind of display of dissent that we want to eradicate or at least keep to an absolute minimum in 2020.

He was saved from a red card by his team-mate Jackson Wray who dragged him away but that sort of disrespect towards a referee shouldn’t be tolerated or we’ll see even more of it. I certainly think he should be getting a warning from Premiership Rugby for it.

saracens brawl

The brawl which erupted during Munster’s defeat at Saracens (Photo by Getty Images)

That came hot on the heels of the incident between Munster’s doctor and Jamie George just a couple of weeks earlier. He has apologised and received news of his punishment on the final day of the year but we can’t have that conduct or language becoming more prevalent in the sport.

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On Saturday Joe Marler replied to a comment on social media with language that we might not want our daughters or sons to read as well. It’s tricky being a rugby player in the public eye and I was subjected to more than my share of abuse but they’re role models now more than ever and do have a responsibility to act accordingly.

I want to be able to take my kids to rugby games and not worry about what they’re going to hear. We don’t want to have segregation of fans or have to sit in family only sections if we want to take our children with us.

We’re not at that stage yet but we’re already seeing things creep into the game that we might not want to…dissent, diving, waving imaginary cards and harassing referees and then there’s the salary cap.

Saracens have accepted their salary cap punishment

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Enough has been said about that in recent months but it’s another form of disrespect towards the other clubs, owners and the league in general.

The old adage about football being a gentlemen’s game played by thugs and rugby being a thug’s game played by gentlemen may be a bit clichéd but we need to make sure we do everything we can to make sure the values the game has become known for aren’t eroded over the course of the next decade.

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