World Rugby law changes: Ex-Wales captain Paul Thorburn says they have destroyed game

World Rugby law changes: Ex-Wales captain Paul Thorburn says they have destroyed game

Ex-England captain Sir Bill Beaumont has been World Rugby chairman since 2016

Former Wales captain Paul Thorburn says World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont has “overseen the destruction” of rugby union because of law changes.

Thorburn has also called for a motion of no confidence in the former England captain, who was elected in 2016.

“The laws of the game that have been changed over the last 15, 20 years have made the game… in effect rugby league with 15 players,” Thorburn said.

“There’s no rucks. There’s no mauls. The tackle laws, the line-out laws.”

World Rugby last week held a two-day Shape of the Game Conference in London, where leading figures within the game discussed topics such as player welfare, global playing trends, the role of match officials and the use of technology.

“World Rugby and its member unions do not stand still when it comes to the welfare of our participants and numerous impactful measures, programmes and law amendments have been implemented under Sir Bill Beaumont’s chairmanship of World Rugby. This is an area he is passionate about,” World Rugby said in a statement.

“In the last year alone, Sir Bill has presided over transformational reform of World Rugby’s decision-making structures, focusing on broader independent, player and female influence… we have just come off the back of an incredible Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021.

“The men’s Test arena has never been so competitive, but we continually review game trends to understand how we can make it better – more accessible, more relevant and more exciting.

“Last week, World Rugby announced outcomes from its Shape of the Game Conference which gathered leading playing, coaching, officiating, medical and administrative minds and has set short-term and longer-term focus areas to further rugby’s entertainment value and welfare environment.

“An update on these aspects will be announced in the coming weeks.”

Many of the law changes overseen by the world governing body have been introduced with the aim of making the game safer, with players becoming physically bigger and more powerful as the game has evolved.

But ex-Wales full-back Thorburn disputed this, pointing to the group legal action being organised against rugby union’s governing bodies and authorities on behalf of 225 former players.

The players are suffering from a variety of neurological problems, such as early onset dementia, seizures and depression, which they attribute to the brain damage suffered during their playing days.

But World Rugby says that player welfare is an ongoing priority, adding: “This commitment and leadership is driven by an unwavering drive to follow the science and research and embrace new technologies.

“It is evidenced by a raft of initiatives from sport-leading concussion-management protocols and contact training load-limit guidance to investment in research, examination of the latest technologies such as eye-tracking and smart mouthguards.

“This is in addition to welfare-driven law change around the scrum, breakdown and 50-22 implementation to global injury-prevention education programmes such as Tackle Ready and Activate.”

However, Thorburn says the priority for new Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) chairman Ieuan Evans should be to address those issues.

“He [Evans] needs to put forward a motion of no confidence in the chairman of World Rugby, Bill Beaumont, who has overseen the destruction of what has been a fabulous game with the changes of the laws over the last 10-15 years that have made it a game that really is not acceptable any more,” Thorburn told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast.

“They’ve made it more dangerous and the evidence is there and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with this case that’s being put forward.

“If the players with head injuries win that case then the game is gone, so that would be Ieuan Evans’, his and the Welsh Rugby Union’s priorities are to bring some of these things to the top of the table.”

Thorburn, tournament director at the 1999 World Cup and later strategic development manager for the Ospreys, says the game in Wales is also at crisis point.

While the WRU reviews Wales’ disappointing autumn campaign and the future of head coach Wayne Pivac, Thorburn says Evans’ attention should be on other matters.

“I don’t think we should change Wayne Pivac at the moment. I think with all respect Ieuan Evans has much bigger fish to fry,” Thorburn added.

“Yes, obviously, we wanted to see a successful campaign in November and it didn’t happen but there were elements that were some positive signs. It’s fine margins.

“Next priority would be draw up proposals to acquire the four Welsh regions [Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets] to make them wholly -owned subsidiaries of the Welsh Rugby Union.

“We’ve had regional rugby for 20 years, it hasn’t worked, quite simply, it’s not a structure that works, there’s too much friction between the regions and the Welsh Rugby Union.

“The Irish model which has been there for years and is very successful, and you talk about European success, we only talk about the Irish provinces. Welsh regions have not featured whatsoever.

“We have bigger problems. The game is broken. The whole game in Wales is broken.

“There is no relationship between the community clubs and the regions. The academy system that the regions have put in place is a shambles. It’s a dysfunctional system and it needs to be sorted.

“So whilst yes, I appreciate the fans want to see Wales doing well in the Rugby World Cup, and there’s nothing to say they won’t do themselves proud in the World Cup with Wayne Pivac in place, but moving forward the priority is to sort out the game.

“There are clubs who are dying. There are youngsters who are not coming into the game. That is a major problem.

“So, whilst, yes. It would be nice for Wales to do well in the next World Cup, I’m sure most rugby fans, genuine rugby fans want to see a sustainable game and it isn’t going to happen if we carry on the way we are.”

Paul Thorburn was the tournament director at the 1999 World Cup hosted by Wales which saw the construction of the Millennium Stadium
Paul Thorburn was the tournament director at the 1999 World Cup hosted by Wales

The wider state of the game in Europe is also a concern for Thorburn, 60, who won 37 caps for Wales and still holds the record for the longest successful kick in international rugby – 64.2m against Scotland in the 1986 Five Nations.

“I’d also call an emergency meeting of the Six Nations in European rugby to completely restructure the European game,” Thorburn said.

“If you allow the structure of the European game with the likes of France paying stupid money to attract players, that is going to have a knock-on effect to every playing nation in Europe. We’ve seen this.

“It started when the game went professional when obviously clubs are outbidding for players – that’s human nature – but we somehow have to have some kind of agreement in place which is a manageable system and one that is sustainable.

“We’ve been talking about the demise of the Welsh game since it went professional. We have the same conversation every year and it’s going to carry on.

“When England start having problems with some of their clubs then you realise there is a bit of a problem, so it needs to be nipped in the bud quite frankly.”

Exeter Chiefs have had to sell “non-rugby assets” to help pay Covid-19 loans, less than two months after Wasps and Worcester both went into administration and were removed from the English Premiership due to overwhelming debt.

Worcester were given a £15m loan from Sport England, as part of the government’s sports survival package during the pandemic, and had an overall debt believed to about £25m, including £6m owed to HMRC in unpaid tax.

Wasps have struggled to repay a £35m bond taken out to buy the CBS Arena and their most recent set of accounts for Wasps Holdings showed an £18.5m loss over a two-year period, with current liabilities of £54.7m.

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