Rugby-Commotion affair casts dark cloud over sport

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LONDON (Reuters) – Rugby’s year has ended with the sport in the run-up to the upcoming World Cup while bracing for a potentially seismic challenge to the very fabric of the game through a court case citing a neglect for concussion.

Rugby Union – Autumn Nations Cup – France v Italy – Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France – November 28, 2020 Gabin Villiere de France scores his second try REUTERS / Christian Hartmann

While the draw had been made for the 2023 World Cup in France with several teams, including the champions of South Africa, having not played a match since the last tournament 13 months ago due to COVID -19, French President Emmanuel Macron praised the event and sport for its ability to heal the wounds of his country.

Yet the first question posed to World Rugby Vice President Bernard Laporte was not about the tantalizing clash between New Zealand and France in three years, but about the looming lawsuits against his organization, the RFU and the WRU.

This is brought by a group of former players, led by 2003 World Cup-winning English hooker Steve Thompson, all of whom suffer from early-onset dementia in their forties and claim that the sport’s governing bodies have failed. duty to protect them from the long term impact of multiple head injuries.

Players say their main motivation is to make the game safer, but the prospect of a multi-million pound settlement is also in the air.

Laporte responded by saying that the sport is “a model in terms of research, innovation and mastery of this field”, and there is no doubt that concussions and the well-being of players are addressed, especially in changes in tackling laws, in a way never considered in the “suck” era of rugby’s early professional years.

With the NFL settling a $ 765 million concussion case seven years ago, the financial impact has the potential to bankrupt the sport, but Thompson’s heartbreaking tale of how he no longer remembers it ‘winning the World Cup and suffering from daily mental struggles could also do equal damage to reputation.

Many worried parents will surely decide – progress or not – that the risk to their children’s health is too great and that their sporting future would be better served elsewhere. How rugby deals with this, while retaining its unique physiognomy, will be a huge challenge at all levels.

DISPIRANT LOWS

This awkward RWC draw summed up the year, where the few highs too often seemed accompanied by disheartening lows.

Argentina, playing their first game in 13 months, produced the performance of 2020 by beating New Zealand for the first time in 30 attempts.

Granite-faced captain Pablo Matera was hailed for his display, but two weeks later he was dismissed as captain after racist messages sent years earlier by him and two international teammates came to light . His subsequent reinstatement within days was also not universally appreciated.

England have won a memorable Six Nations Championship only for the fact that it started in early February and ended in late October.

Their points difference triumph over France, followed by victory over the same team via a sudden death overtime penalty in the fall Nations Cup final cemented their position as the strongest team in the world. ‘Europe, but the austere, kicking-oriented style that dominated both competitions won the sport few admirers.

New Zealand recovered from their Puma shock as they usually do, beating the upstarts 38-0 two weeks later, and duly won the rugby championship without Springbok.

The best and worst of the game were also on display in the English Premiership, which started the year in turmoil by relegating the perennial champions Saracens as punishment for multiple violations of the salary cap rule.

It was the kind of skulduggery one just couldn’t imagine taking place in Exeter under the direction of universally admired Rob Baxter, who after 30 years at the club led them to the remarkable Premiership and Cup double. Europe 10 years after their release. of the championship.

Having fully embraced professionalism during the club’s rise from the minor leagues, Baxter has clung to an amateur tradition that is likely to outlast all the trials and tribulations of the sport by insisting that its players celebrate their triumphs “with a good beer together ”.

Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond

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