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Warburton explains why pro game must be prioritised over grassroots

By Josh Raisey
Sam Warburton, the former Wales captain, looks on during the Summer International match between Wales and England at the Principality Stadium on August 05, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Former Wales captain Sam Warburton has elaborated on his stance on how the Welsh Rugby Union should spend their resources.

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The 35-year-old recently explained on the BBC why he thinks the WRU should prioritise spending on the professional teams rather than grassroots rugby as it will generate more interest in the game.

As a guest on RPTV’s The Big Jim Show recently, the former British & Irish Lions captain expanded on those views, drawing inspiration from the NFL and the Premier League and how the top teams spend their money.

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While Warburton maintains that grassroots rugby should not be neglected, he said the focus should be on building “iconic teams” which will generate longterm success.

“Maybe naive people will say ‘you’ve got to invest in grassroots,'” he said.

“I’m like ‘really?’ Investing in four or five-year-olds now is going to change the game? No.

“You can try and encourage me to do something, but if I’m not seeing something aspirational at the very top, I’m going to be like ‘what’s the point? Why am I going to bother with this?’

“I’m not saying you neglect grassroots, there should always be a proportion of your turnover which goes to grassroots or goes to community projects.

“You can go to as many schools as you want, they ain’t going to care if there’s no product to look up to.

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“That’s why I think with Welsh rugby, if you’ve got a successful national team and you’ve got successful regions, guess what, all the youngsters watching are going to think ‘this is a pretty sexy sport to play and I want to be that next icon and role model, that’s going to be me.’

“That’s what inspired me when I was growing up. There were good Cardiff teams when Cardiff were in the European Cup final in the late ’90s, Wales won a Grand Slam in ’05, I was like ‘I want to be that guy.’

“If you haven’t got that success, the bottom of your pyramid is going to get much smaller. So when people think it goes bottom-up, you actually reverse it, it comes top-down.

“I always think you’ve got to invest in your professional game first and foremost. Look at England in ’03, when they won the World Cup, I bet you because they won the World Cup engagement in rugby clubs around the country would have been flying and interest would have been flying. How many kids were probably cupping their hands, kicking goals in their local parks because they wanted to be Jonny Wilkinson.

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“You’ve got to build these stars, build these iconic teams, and naturally the interest will follow.

“I’ve only got a small business now, but what’s the one thing you need to focus on? The product. If the product’s not good, people ain’t going to buy it. You’ve got to focus on the product, and it rugby that’s the professional game.”

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Comments

2 Comments
J
Jon 108 days ago

Haha! Is Warburton a fruit loop? Haven’t really heard from the guy before.

Isn’t Rugby like a national game in Wales? His ideas are moronic, like he doesn’t know his own influence. I’d imagine kids who grew up with him as an inspiration, and rugby in their blood, are now being pressured to play other sports like competitively in school. Maybe he’s just pumping up some basic debate.

That pressure will be from investment in grassroots sports.

J
JD Kiwi 108 days ago

Sounds like he's advocating the same path that Australia went down from the first Eddie Jones reign until last year. Remind me how that's gone.

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