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Warburton distances himself from Lions legends over previous player death claim

By Josh Raisey

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Former British & Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton has said that he has changed his view over a previously expressed concern in his autobiography that a player could die on the pitch if changes were not made to safety protocols.


The Welshman, who was forced to retire through injury in 2018, was quoted by a group of Lions legends in a letter addressed to World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont, in which they argued that the number of substitutions made in a game should be reduced in order to make the game safer.

Sir Ian McGeechan, Willie John McBride, Sir Gareth Edwards, Barry John, and John Taylor were some of the names that signed this letter, and quoted Warburton’s previous statement that “if something is not done soon, a professional player will die during a game in front of TV cameras.”

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However, Warburton distanced himself from that previous statement in The Times recently, where he said he no longer thinks a player could die on the pitch due to the advancements that have been made.

“A quote of mine that a player could die on television was referenced in it, but I must say that I made that comment in my autobiography, which was written a couple of years ago,” the two-time Lions captain said.

“I was not approached concerning the letter and I have never been contacted about anything to do with player welfare. I find that a shame because I would love to be part of those discussions. I care about the game deeply.

“But I have changed my view. I wouldn’t say now that I think someone could die on the pitch, simply because I think the game has become so much safer because of its stricter concussion protocols. The dangers of second impact syndrome have been taken away because players are removed at the first signs of any symptoms or a big head knock. That was my real worry.”


With that being said, he is still not averse to the idea of reducing the number of substitutions in a match, believing it will change the size of front five forwards.

“Limiting the number of replacements would not change the size of the backs or the back rowers because they all can play the full 80 minutes now anyway, but it may change the size of the front five and their impacts off the bench. Dealing with a 19-stone prop who is conditioned to play for only 30 minutes can be difficult!”

The 79-cap former flanker did make some suggestions that could introduced to continue to make the game safer, such as  a mandatory two-week rest for concussion.

“It is still so subjective, with players having to say whether they feel dizzy, nauseous or have headaches during the return-to-play protocols. It needs to be taken out of the players’ hands if possible.”


Warburton also proposed a British and Irish two-tier league to limit the number of games played per season. The competition would see two twelve-team leagues with eleven regular season matches and play-offs. Alongside a knockout European competition and international matches, this would mean professionals play 25 matches per year, which Warburton believes should be the maximum. However, he said the major roadblock this league faces is getting the English on board.


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