Clive Woodward fears rugby is in a perilous place as the Gallagher Premiership gets ready to restart its 2019/20 season this weekend. Claiming that the sport’s absence has barely been noticed, he has called on the dozen top-flight clubs to speed up the game and deliver a product that will prevent TV viewers from switching off.

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Harlequins will host Sale on Friday in the league’s first match since the March 8 meeting of Bristol and Quins, the last game played before the Premiership in England went into lockdown. 

Writing in his latest Sportsmail column ahead of the restart, Woodward called on teams to adopt a change in attitude so that faffing about and time-wasting will be replaced by the type of entertaining fare that will keep fans engaged all the way through to the October final.

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How Saracens are undergoing a deep clean at Allianz Park ahead of the Gallagher Premiership’s restart

“It has been a desert out there for the last five months and there is a captive audience waiting to be thrilled,” wrote the former England coach. “That’s exactly what rugby must do – or suffer the consequences. 

“A great game of rugby is still the finest sporting spectacle in the world, but a bad game of stop-start rugby, with no crowd, emotion – just hype and manufactured drama to mask those deficiencies – is as boring and unsatisfying an experience as it is possible to imagine.

“There will be no hiding place in the coming weeks. It will be stripped bare like never before and we will see exactly where the sport is currently delivering… and where it has gone down a cul de sac. The first few games could be like discovering the game for the first time.

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“Sports must stand and fall by what they deliver and, thus far, cricket, golf and football have delivered in spades. So what can rugby deliver? We must step up to the plate. This isn’t about finishing the season as a formality, it is about relaunching the game and capturing imaginations like never before. 

“To do so, all involved in the game must realise this shift in priorities – media, players, coaches, owners. If you thought, pre-Covid, that faffing around with three or four scrum resets was boring, or that endless box kicks were like Groundhog Day, try watching that ‘action’ take place in an empty, echoing ground.

“And there is still too much time wasted as most lineouts gather in their own good time – another excuse for a rest and slowing everything down.

“That simply isn’t going to cut the mustard for long, especially on hard summer pitches. The TV viewer will soon switch off and that will be disastrous for rugby. It should be a game for elite, fit athletes, not those just finding a way to coast their way through proceedings.

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“The stakes are high. Rugby is in a perilous position vis-a-vis other sports who have been putting their best foot forward. Rugby must deliver a high-tempo, fluid, innovative game rich in skill, speed and strength. This might be the end of the season, but let’s see a new attitude, the start of something brighter and better.”

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