We asked Chris Hoy, Lee Westwood, a couple of Super Bowl winners and others how to make union more of a draw

How to improve rugby, according to stars of sport

Sometimes we can be insular with our sport; only looking for the input or experiences of those within the game.

But in a time of lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis, when better to see what those from other elite sports make of rugby union – and imortantly, how would they improve upon it? So we asked stars from a number of disciplines one question: “In a perfect world, how would you make rugby more attractive?”

Here is what they said…

Chris Hoy, former track cyclist and Britain’s joint most-decorated Olympian

“The question I’d ask is, more attractive to who? All sports are trying to attract new fans and keep people more engaged but I think rugby is a fantastic game and I wouldn’t like to see it dumbed down.

“As with anything, once you have a little insight into what’s involved, the intricacies of the game, it gives you a much greater appreciation.

“The one priority I would say is to get more people into the stands. With any sport, if you see it live you have a much better sense of what it’s really like – with rugby, you appreciate the hits, the pace, the skill. More bums on seats would mean more people likely to become really engaged fans. But I love rugby; I’m a big fan.”

How to improve rugby, according to stars of sport

Swinging: Westwood in Abu Dhabi in January (Getty Images)

Lee Westwood, former World No 1 golfer and Ryder Cup hero

“The problems with rugby union for the casual watcher, I think, are as follows: A) The rules (laws) and how the referees seem to interpret them differently. B) All the stopping and starting. C) Some don’t understand why it’s a good tactic to kick the ball out of play.”

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Josh Cobb, Northamptonshire batsman

“Tough question as I obviously like rugby and a lot to do with it, like refs mic’d up, mixed crowds and on the whole the players aren’t major superstars and are accessible.

“Having all the refs and assistants mic’d up for all to hear around the ground would keep the fans involved.

“At a grass-roots level, maybe pushing the game at a club level and hoping more (Ellis) Genges of the world come through over the perceived public schoolboys – it is a similar problem in cricket.

“Lastly, on the speed of the game, try reducing the amount of resets a scrum can have. Sometimes they can drag on and slow the game down.”

How to improve rugby, according to stars of sport

Sliderule: Kim Little slots a goal (Getty Images)

Kim Little, captain of Arsenal Women

“This is a novice’s opinion, but (rugby) is generally seen as middle-class sport, which limits it (subconsciously) to only a certain number of the population, in childhood. Especially in comparison to football, so it doesn’t then attract the masses of fans that football does, who grow up loving the game.

“So I suppose to improve it or make it more popular, I would say to change the stereotype in some way – so all children can become lifelong fans of it, like with football.”

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Jamie Gillan, NFL punter with the Cleveland Browns

“I love rugby, been playing since I was five. The only thing I can think of (to change) is the pay to players – for rugby players, being professional athletes, the pay for rookie guys is very low. As far as spectators (are concerned), I’m not sure how you would make it more enjoyable.”

Nate Ebner, three-time Super Bowl-winning safety and special teamer, now with New York Giants

“In my opinion, they (the uninitiated) should play, themselves. That would make the game more appealing to watch, after experiencing it.”

Patrick Chung, three-time Super Bowl-winning strong safety, New England Patriots

“I’m with Nate. That’s the best way – experience is the best way to gain information in sports, in my opinion.”

How to improve rugby, according to stars of sport

Super stuff: Chung with the Vince Lombardi trophy in 2019 (Getty Images)

Michael Jamieson, Olympic silver medal winner at 200m breaststroke

“I’m a standard fair weather, fair competition rugby follower – Six Nations and World Cups I’m all in, but don’t follow domestic comps.

“I’d say following the rules (laws) is the most difficult or frustrating part for the layman – rules around the scrum, lineout and rucking that are difficult to follow.

“Broadcasters could provide (more) insight into that and the specific roles for each play. I think the Sky Sports team do this pretty well with the NFL coverage in breaking down plays on the green screen etc and highlighting what the aim of the play is.”

Matthew Southgate, European Tour golfer

“In my opinion the international rugby matches that are staged all over the globe really capture a great following and drum up huge interest for the fans…

“The hardest job within rugby is to recreate the atmosphere found around internationals, down into club level. Kids who are introduced to ‘tag’ rugby as youngsters seem to really enjoy the game. It’s an amazing way to not only get people into the sport and become physically active, but it teaches people life lessons within learning the laws of the game and respect for each other.

“I’d like to see the earliest stages of the game promoted as much as possible to get more kids and youths into the game from their early years. It’s always important to grow all of our great sports from grass-roots level, so that the sports are in good hands and growing through the years.”

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