We think that these are the eight biggest threats to the future success of rugby over the coming years…
There have been recent reports of so called ‘super agents’ wanting the salary cap in the Premiership abolished so English clubs can offer the same kind of wages currently available in France and Japan. It is exactly this kind of attitude that has caused the hyper-inflation of wages in football and should be avoided at all costs.
We are already seeing the issue of sky-rocketing wages in France as foreign imports are coming in and usurping rising French players. This is filtering through to the international side who are already beginning to struggle, and who will find it difficult to turn things around with a lack of young talent coming through.
2.The Rising Power Of Clubs
It increasingly seems that clubs are holding more sway over player availability and selection, much to the detriment of the international game. We have already seen Toulon trying to bring back players midway through the Rugby Championship, whilst English based Welsh players had to miss their game against South Africa last year.
This is also becoming an increasing issue for players from countries outside of the tier 1 nations, with European sides putting pressure on these individuals to choose club over country during international windows. Rugby is a sport built around the international game and must remain this way at all costs.
3.Rugby League Coaches
There’s no doubting that the introduction of rugby league coaches and players into union has brought a huge number of benefits to the game. That being said, the coaches from league are also part of the reason rugby union is at risk of becoming a boring spectacle, with even All Blacks coach Steve Hansen commenting on the issue recently.
The problem is that rugby league coaches have improved the defensive side of the game so much that it often becomes a bit of a stand-off with the side with the strongest defence coming out on top. Whilst there is obviously huge importance in defence, rugby must also remain entertaining as that is its primary function.
Although it still remains far from a major issue, we are beginning to see increasing incidences of players acting more and more like footballers. From diving, to complaining to referee’s, there is an increasing football-esque culture creeping into rugby that needs eradicating as a matter of urgency before it takes a foothold.
The problem is that this culture isn’t just confined to on the field either. It seems there are also issues in the stands ranging from more extreme moments like the homophobic abuse of Nigel Owens last year through to booing during kicks at goal. The authorities need to try and urge fans to show the kind of respect that rugby is founded on when at games.
5.Failure To Enforce Laws
This is an issue that is raised time and again in various rugby circles, yet nothing seems to be done about it. The biggest of these issues is the feed at the scrum right now. It seems mind-boggling that officials aren’t able to enforce the simplest of directives, even at the highest level, and therefore something needs to change.
World Rugby have tried pushing the issue to little avail, so now must look to discipline those officials who fail to deal with this. Officials who consistently allow crooked feeds at the scrum should first receive a one week suspension which can be increased on each occasion they fail to deal with the issue at hand.
6.A Preference For Athleticism Over Skill
The trend in youth rugby these days seems to prefer players with size and athleticism rather than those with skill. It seems unlikely we will see many more players like Shane Williams coming through the ranks, such is the changing nature of the professional game. This also seems to be impacting training where players spend more time in the gym than out on the training field.
The other issue with this trend is that players are now becoming increasingly mobile, ensuring there are fewer gaps in the defence. With props increasingly losing the excess timber, players are now able to cover more ground and we are therefore getting fewer mismatches which could be contributing to the improving defences.
Interviews with rugby players are becoming increasingly dour affairs with top players having any kind of personality completely media-trained out of them. It seems long gone are the days of the game having a number of quirky personalities who kept things interesting, instead we just the same canned responses repeatedly rolled out.
There is one major exception to this however in Nick Cummins who has helped bring some personality back into post-match interviews. The problem though is that he has become the exception to the rule, where once there were a number of figures throughout the game capable of keeping fans entertained both on and off the pitch.
8.Failure To Distribute Funding
Whilst tier one nations continue to thrive financially (for the most part), those nations sat just below them in the rankings have never struggled so much to compete financially. The issues surrounding the Samoan side at the end of last year perfectly highlighted this issue, and yet absolutely nothing seems to have been done.
World Rugby need to act now to ensure that tier two and three nations begin to see more of the global funding for rugby in order to ensure they can not just survive, but actually begin to grow and challenge the established players. Extra competition across the globe can only be a good thing for the game, there now just needs to be the investment to make this a reality.