JPR Williams fears 'rugby union will die'
November 29, 2013
JPR Williams in his prime © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions legend JPR Williams has warned "rugby union will die" as the size of players increases in the modern game.
Earlier this week, Professor John Fairclough said rugby was now a game for "freaks" due to the size and weight of the players on show. While JPR denies the current crop of players are "freaks", he does agree that rugby is suffering as the game becomes ever more focused on the size of the players rather than their skillset.
"In most sports, people are getting bigger and bigger," Williams told ESPN. "I wouldn't say they are "freaks" because our wingers, [Alex] Cuthbert and [George] North, even though they are huge guys, they are great on their feet. They can sidestep and are talented players.
"They would have been second-rows in my time. They are six-foot-four and six-foot-six. It has changed. My big worry is that small players are going out of the game.
"We had a young lad, Hallam Amos, who played against Tonga and I thought he did quite well. But if it's all going to be about size, then rugby union will die. Its strength has always been that regardless of how big or small you are there's always a place in the side for you if you're good enough. The players now are much bigger, less skilful and it's all about power now."
JPR, a qualified orthopaedic surgeon, is also concerned that the size of the players and the focus on the gym-side of the sport will see them sustain long-term damage. He added: "There's no doubt the present players will be having their joints replaced 20 years before our generation. They do so much training, they over-train. They have fitness coaches who have to justify their highly paid jobs.
"Before any game the players are warming up for an hour and a half before a game, that is totally ridiculous, you don't need 90 minutes. It's all because of these fitness coaches who are being paid and feel they need to justify their jobs. Often, sportsmen need to rest. Most of these injuries occur because they are training too hard and they will break down."
While JPR played in arguably the greatest era for Welsh and Lions rugby, he was loathed to compare the halcyon days of the 1970s to the current crop. "You can't compare different eras. With the amount of training about now and the amount of time with nutrition, anyone from a different era would have been as good as the players around now.
"Having said that, perhaps we would have had objected to training so much as we realised that players need to rest. All these players who get injured all the time, yes it's size but they are training too much and they are hitting each other in training which is counter-productive."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.