3 burning issues in world rugby

Pat Lambie (Gallo)
Pat Lambie (Gallo)

Paris - The Six Nations kicks off when France entertain Wales on Friday. A look at three current issues in world rugby.

Tackles, concussion

Four deaths in French rugby within eight months have highlighted a worrying trend in rugby. Bigger, stronger players and tightened defences make for an increasingly brutal, confrontational sport in which injuries, notably to the head, become more prevalent.

The game's authorities, World Rugby, have attempted to tackle renewed safety concerns by lowering tackle heights.

But the English RFU's introduction of this rule into the second-tier Championship Cup, in attempt to reduce concussions might be causing them.

The elimination of upright and high tackles leads to more collisions where both the tackler and ball-carrier were bent at the waist.

The concussion problem is constantly in the news.

Former Samoa Under-20 flank Faiva Tagatauli died last week after a suspected head injury, while Springbok Pat Lambie recently retired at the age of just 28 because of "persistent post-concussion symptoms" as a result of his time in the sport.

Something has to change, not least to keep attracting children to the grassroots game.

Global calendar

World Rugby chiefs are seeking to balance the needs of the sport in both the northern and southern hemispheres, while addressing player welfare concerns in their ever-more physical sport.

There are concerns that fixtures in the July and November international windows lack the focus provided by a tournament such as Europe's Six Nations or the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship.

Plans for a 12-team annual competition, along the lines of football's just-launched UEFA Nations League, have been mooted.

The so-called 'League of Nations' is seen as of particular potential benefit in the southern hemisphere, where rugby economies have been struggling.

But there are concerns that an annual 'League of Nations' champion could devalue the quadrennial World Cup, the latest edition of which takes place in Japan later this year.

Six Nations chiefs would also likely be worried by their stand-alone Championship becoming a feeder event, while any plan requiring countries to merge their broadcast rights could face resistance from individual member unions.

It all leaves World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont, the former England captain, trying to steer a difficult course through the competing interests.

Enigmatic Jones

It is fair to say that Eddie Jones' bubble as England coach burst in spectacular fashion.

After notching up 22 wins in his opening 23 matches, a period when the English won a Grand Slam and beat Australia 3-0, Jones could only look on horror as his team lost three of last season's Six Nations games.

That was followed by a series defeat in South Africa, piling the pressure on the pugnacious Australian.

Coaching a team from the country with most registered players and the best-funded national union, all eyes will be on Jones to produce the goods as England eye the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Jones has Cup form: he was coaching the Wallabies when Jonny Wilkinson's late drop-goal stole the show for England in 2003; he was part of the South African set-up when they won in 2007; and who could forget the Japan side he led to an unprecedented three pool victories in 2015, including a first win over the Springboks?

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