Ex-Hoppers director of rugby Gareth Dyer’s column

Japan's Karne Hesketh after scoring the winning try against South Africa
Japan's Karne Hesketh after scoring the winning try against South Africa
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Well, what a first weekend of games in the Rugby World Cup!

England got an important bonus-point victory to start their campaign, New Zealand’s class eventually overcame Argentina’s passion, whilst France, Ireland and Wales all had their expected regulation victories.

But without doubt the story of the first set of games was Japan’s incredible win over the mighty Springboks.

It was totally unexpected and has to be the biggest shock at any global tournament in any sport.

I say that because whilst underdogs have their day in every sport, the physical nature of rugby union simply does not lend itself to smaller teams overcoming the big dogs.

The South Africans are regarded as the most physical team in world rugby and you will never see a Springbok team lack size or power.

But Japan, despite giving away a lot in terms of size, were quite simply amazing.

They played at such an incredible pace for the full 85 minutes – with a high skill level and suffocating defence – that in the end it would have been a travesty if they had not won the game.

It was a result and performance to reaffirm that skill, pace and strong technique wins rugby matches and that brute force alone does not make a team successful.

It is reassuring that the game is again concentrating on the “creative” approach having become too preoccupied with the power game for far too long.

Therefore this game came along at just the right time with the sport firmly in the limelight for contrasting reasons.

Yes, the World Cup provides a positive platform to engage people with rugby and showcase its values but it is also an opportunity for some to highlight the negative issues that surround the sport.

A high-profile television programme this week questioned whether rugby players are getting too big and powerful for the game to remain safe. The programme’s specific focus surrounded concussion and its long-term effects.

It certainly made for sobering viewing.

To those parents watching whose children might be taking an interest in the sport, then I can understand why the programme will have caused concern.

After all, we always want our children to engage is pursuits where they will be safe, well looked after and only benefit from the experiences they enter into.

But before deciding that rugby should be a non-starter, I would urge anybody who might have been put off by the issues raised to re-consider.

The game takes its duty of care very seriously and much has already – and continues to be – done to address such issues.

At the professional level, where the players make a living out of the game, they are expected to be supremely fit and strong.

They train hard and condition their bodies to the needs of the game.

Rugby is a physical sport – there is no getting away from that. There are risks from playing it – there is no getting away from that either – but the game is made safer every year in terms of the laws that are introduced and medical protocols that are enforced.

That these are then applied at every level and every age group involved in the playing of the game.

Those measures which are designed to increase safety at the top of the game filter downwards so that the positive effect of those changes is even greater at amateur and age-grade rugby.

The game has made sensible changes to scrum laws, tackle protocols and how airborne players should be protected and these have further increased safety. The ruck still needs some attention and this area is clearly next on the safety agenda.

I’ve heard some fans say, ‘The game’s gone soft’ and has been overly sanitised. I disagree.

The duty of care placed on players, coaches and referees ensures that the game remains physical but at its heart has a safety culture instilled within it.

No sport will ever be able to fully eradicate the risk of injury but rugby’s governing bodies are proactive to research and ideas as to how the game can be made as safe as possible.

This is a continual process and one from which supporters, parents, coaches and players should take confidence.

Away from the World Cup, last Saturday was a disappointing day at the office for Hoppers who suffered a comprehensive away defeat at the hands of Macclesfield.

The performance again highlighted those areas where Hoppers clearly need to strengthen and I understand these are being addressed.

When the fixtures came out in June, the first six weeks certainly looked like a tough start for the Lightfoot Green outfit.

The division looks very tight this year with all teams capable of beating each other. This was confirmed last week when a number of sides went away from home and picked up unexpected wins.

This week Hoppers face Caldy, which is akin to a local derby.

The visitors have started their season strongly, have a big pack and some sharp operators behind the scrum.

Games between the two sides are usually close run affairs but the men from the Wirral have recruited well and are well fancied to be in the shake-up at the top of the table.

Hoppers will know how important it is to get a home win.

It might still be early in the season but this game is already significant before two consecutive away games in the Midlands.