Iconic former All Blacks captain Ian Kirkpatrick has a simple warning for World Rugby bosses – change the rules now or risk serious injury to leading players.
Kirkpatrick, 74, played 39 tests and 74 matches as loose forward for the All Blacks between 1967 and 1977, and captained the team between 1972 and 1974.
Speaking on Sky Sport’s The Pod on Thursday, Kirkpatrick warned that rugby has become too dangerous – especially around the breakdowns.
“With the physicality of it now I worry about the welfare of the players… and I don’t know if they deep down enjoy it.
“They’re playing obviously because they’re getting well paid but I worry about their welfare later on as well. They have a lot of living to do after rugby. I just hope we don’t get too many players who are going to suffer because of it.”
Kirkpatrick was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003 and was last month named New Zealand Rugby’s patron after the death of Sir Brian Lochore in 2019.
“At the start of professional rugby we always had at least four or five forwards in at the breakdown so we had more space further out,” Kirkpatrick said.
“I know they’ve always had the cleanout but I think the cleanout has got ridiculous. It’s become dangerous, the players that are defending can’t see them coming and someone’s going to get seriously hurt – just ask (Brodie) Retallick about that in the game against the Springboks in Wellington last year.”
Retallick dislocated his shoulder following what appeared to be an illegal ruck cleanout against the Boks in July last year, an injury that cast serious doubts on his participation in the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
In 2018 All Blacks teammate Sam Cane was sidelined for several months after fracturing his neck after a collision at the breakdown in a test against the South Africans in Pretoria.
Forcing more players to the breakdown would not only make the game much safer – but improve it as a spectacle, Kirkpatrick believes.
NZR earlier confirmed that existing laws at the breakdown would be applied more strictly to create faster attacking ball and a fairer contest – with ball carriers allowed only one dynamic movement after being tackled, tacklers expected to roll away immediately in the direction of the sideline and an “extra focus” on the offside line.
“If we can get back to making a few subtle changes to the rules where we can force guys to come into the breakdown, maybe have a bit more rucking and create that space further out cause there’s no way we can make the grounds any bigger and that’s the only way now to create more space,” Kirkpatrick said.
“That’s what the players will like and the fans will certainly grasp it as well. That’s my big concern about where the game is going and I just hope World Rugby in their wisdom can see that and somehow address it.”
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