Sir Bill Beaumont is rarely flustered and is considered the steady hand on rugby’s tiller. Compared with rival and revolutionary Agustin Pichot, the rugby knight is known for being calm and collected. But this week an old friend touched a nerve.
‘Tell Clive I’m still alive and kicking,’ quipped Beaumont, after talking through his manifesto for re-election as World Rugby chairman.
Sir Clive Woodward highlighted the 23-year age difference in his Sportsmail column backing Pichot’s bid — and now Beaumont wants to set the record straight.
Sir Bill Beaumont has vowed to a ‘global revolution’ in his World Rugby Chairman manifesto
The former England captain is often painted as a part of the sport’s old guard, but here he wants to prove that his vision for the sport stretches to every corner of the world.
‘I can’t help the fact that I’m English, I can’t help what age I am and I can’t help that I played all my rugby during the amateur days,’ said Beaumont.
‘I make no apology for that, but one thing I will tell you is that no one has more passion or enthusiasm than me. I’m a proud Englishman but I have a global view of the game… not an English view of the game.’
Sportsmail columnist Sir Clive Woodward exclusively backed rival Agustin Pichot last week
SIR BILL BEAUMONT’S FIVE-POINT MANIFESTO
- Governance reform that is not seen to support the ‘old guard’, including a pledge to review ‘regulation eight’ which could allow the likes of England stars Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola to represent Samoa and Tonga.
- A global season review, with proposals for a two-month Test window in September/October/November, shifting the Lions tour to later in the year.
- A financial policy review to help developed and developing nations, stating a long-term ideal of hosting a World Cup final at the Maracana Stadium in Brazil.
- An increased focus on player welfare, but also a desire to make the game more open by reducing the number of substitutes
- Development of women’s rugby with a global season and more decision-making power.
Alongside running mate Bernard Laporte, Beaumont has submitted a five-point manifesto.
‘When you look at someone serving their second term, they are far more effective in the second term than the first term,’ said Beaumont.
‘Rugby is at a crossroads and there is an opportunity for dialogue. All of our stakeholders must be involved in the conversations to get out of the emergency — and they’ll remain ongoing to help us get a better season.’
One of the biggest criticisms facing rugby is that not enough has been done to develop the sport in new territories.
The power has been held by the Six Nations, New Zealand and Australia but Beaumont believes the balance is shifting in the right direction and disputes claims that is a protectionist old boys’ club.
‘It’s far more open that it was four years ago,’ said Beaumont. ‘There are far more countries represented on the World Rugby Council than there has been in the past and there’s an opportunity for more.
‘Since I got my feet under the table, 30 per cent of the rugby council is women.
‘We want rugby to be open to everyone at every level in every country. It’s harsh on the guys at the Six Nations to say they’re just blockers. We have to have a global game and the Six Nations appreciate that we have to have a global game, of course they do.
‘The game will not survive if it’s just the same six countries playing. They are very open at looking at change and they, like the rest of us, are committed to a global game. All stakeholders have to be involved.’
One of Beaumont’s proposed changes would allow likes of Manu Tuilagi to represent Samoa
One specific reform Beaumont is looking at is an eligibility change that will allow players to switch international playing allegiance to benefit ‘tier two’ nations.
For example, England No 8 Billy Vunipola could switch to represent his ancestral home country of Tonga after a stand-down period.
‘We need to look at regulation eight,’ said Beaumont. ‘There are ways we could open up the collegiate system in America to help the United States and Canada.
‘You could also work out criteria to boost the Pacific Islands. Charles Piutau could return to play for Tonga after a four-year stand-down.
‘Semesa Rokoduguni, the Tuilagis, the Vunipolas who could all qualify for the likes of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga. When they’re coming to the end of their years they might fancy one last hurrah with those countries. There are lots of things that we can do that I think would immediately improve the competitiveness of the Rugby World Cup.’
The toughest project for both Beaumont and Pichot is devising a global playing calendar with unanimity between clubs and countries.
Pichot (right) is Beaumont’s (left) rival in the running to become World Rugby Chairman in May
Beaumont’s template involves a two-month international window in the autumn, while keeping the Six Nations in its traditional slot. He wants to innovate with an annual cross-globe competition that will ‘excite players, fans, sponsors and broadcasters’.
‘Currently Tests are played in July and November, but if the stakeholders agree then that could become a two-month window in September/October or October/November.
It would be coordinated with clubs so there are no crossovers and the season would run until the end of June. It will be a challenge but I believe I am good at bringing people together.
‘You can be innovative around those windows. For example, we could have a tier two competition in the different regions, then the winners qualify for a mini tournament.
‘I want to see tier two nations playing against the big boys. The pathway for nations like Spain or Georgia is through this new international window.
‘It’s not just about the tier one nations. England would still play home games at Twickenham but you could go to Canada, Russia, all sorts of places. I’m not saying we’ll be staging events in the desert like Anthony Joshua but who would have thought 50 years ago that Dubai would host a fantastic Sevens tournament?’
A key challenge for the future chairman is devising a unanimous global playing calendar
And Beaumont also claims the Lions tour could shift away from its traditional window.
‘If the global season moves to September/October then the Lions would move into September with presumably warm-up matches in August,’ he added. ‘You might call me old fashioned but the Lions have been going since the 1800s and are a very important part of the global game.
‘I’ve played for them, I’ve captained them, I’ve managed them. I understand Lions rugby and I understand the importance.’
An improved product will result in growing revenue streams. Beaumont helped take last year’s World Cup to Japan and, with increased investment, he wants to see the sport enter more new territories.
‘I was one of the guys who took the decision in 2009 to send the World Cup to Japan and they were unbelievable hosts,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to look at other areas we can go to: USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Russia, South America. A final one day at a packed out Maracana Stadium? Absolutely. We have to invest in those countries so they’re in a position to do well.
Beaumont was a critical figure in deciding to take the 2019 Rugby World Cup to Japan
‘We need to look at areas that have fantastic athletes but where we haven’t been able to develop the game. Africa has huge potential. Just look at what soccer has done to Africa. That could be a blueprint for us. The USA and Canada are still untapped. These are nuggets that we need to nurture.’
Beaumont’s visions are underpinned by a commitment to player welfare. He has promised to put players at the heart of the decision making. But he will also look at reducing the number of substitutes to create a more entertaining game.
‘Injury surveillance has resulted in a reduction in concussions and high tackles and there’s more work to be done on that. I have a passion about the number of substitutes that we use because there’s too many stops in the game. We don’t want an injured player ever staying on the field.
‘The shape of the game never changes… from the first minute to the last minute. The front row changes after 60 minutes, fresh energy, and it’s the same game. There’s a lot to be said for the old game when you had a bit of fatigue that came into it. The game opened up in the last 20 minutes and that’s when the excitement came in.
‘Maybe we could have different laws in the community game. There are many things we have got to do, and now is the opportunity to do it.’
Beaumont has vowed to place player welfare at the heart of all his decision making if kept on