Former England fly-half Danny Cipriani believes rugby union’s decision makers must take a hard look at themselves and work together to transform the game’s current state, which he says is not in a good condition.
Cipriani, who represented his country in 16 Tests and played most of his club rugby for Wasps, said although the recent financial demise of his former club and fellow Premiership outfit Worcester came as a surprise to him, there are other aspects of rugby union which is stuck in a rut and not modernised.
Not shocked by the state of the game
“Rugby is failing and it can’t keep hiding away from that. I’m shocked about what’s happening at Wasps — and at Worcester too — but I’m not shocked about the state that the game is in because its whole culture isn’t moving with the times,” Cipriani wrote in his column for the Daily Mail.
“It is time for change on so many levels, from the way rugby is run as a business, right down to how the game is coached. We need to drop our stiff-upper-lip mentality; our bravado which feels like we’ve just ignored the state of the game — which is masked by how successful our international game is and always has been.
“There’s too much ego and fear in rugby. We need to be having more honest, truthful, vulnerable conversations which will hopefully move rugby into a new light and a new way of thinking; to accentuate the strength of our game and give it a brighter future.”
Cipriani, who also had stints with Super Rugby outfit Melbourne Rebels, as well as Sale Sharks, Gloucester and Bath in the Premiership, feels rugby union could take a leaf out of football’s book, particularly with how that sport is being run.
“I didn’t know the financial situation at Wasps was so bad,” he wrote. “I’m sure all clubs are run with some debt, as they do in football — but their business is more sustainable. I’ve seen many people turn their noses up at football, but maybe there is a thing or two we can learn from the round-ball game.
“The fact that Wasps and Worcester are going down in these circumstances is devastating. You don’t hear about this sort of thing in other sports, so something is wrong in our game — maybe it’s our mindset — that needs to be looked at.
“This is a terrible situation but it also creates an opportunity to really face what’s going on. It is time to change how the sport is run because it just isn’t working.
“At the moment, it isn’t like that; from team selection to the way businesses are run, or even to the way coaches speak in the media. You need to have an open book and an accessible attitude, but we don’t have that in rugby. What’s everyone trying to hide? Why are we not being open?
“The connection between club and country is a dysfunctional relationship. How is that the case? We are all in the same sport, but everyone puts self-interest at the forefront, whether it be coaches, owners and directors, or even the players to a certain degree. We’ve got to grow the game collectively.”
The 34-year-old believes everyone involved in rugby union should be pulling in the right direction and working together to improve the current situation.
“The only way I can handle grief like this is to learn from it,” Cipriani added. “Even though it’s happened to two clubs, it affects us all — from supporters to staff to players.
“There have to be players stepping up and demanding change. They need to be vocal about what is happening. If you’re playing for England, that doesn’t mean you should keep your head down and your mouth shut because you’re going to keep earning your buck and you’re going to be OK.
Change must happen
“Everyone in our sport needs to start talking and be real about what is going on, because change needs to happen for our sport to survive and thrive. Only from these sorts of scenarios, with our backs against the wall, does greatness come out of it.
“I believe that if players, coaches and directors come together and are honest about their experiences and how the game can take shape — from the business side to the community work, to how rugby is coached and played — then the game we know and love can prosper again.”