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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 May 2007, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
JPR attacks Welsh rugby's set-up
JPR Williams at Hay
Too many are concerned with their committee position, says JPR
Welsh rugby hero JPR Williams has told the Hay Festival he wants to boot the system of regional teams into touch.

He combined a nostalgic look back at the good old days, with straightforward views on the current game.

The full-back in the legendary 1970s team, who recently failed in a bid to become Welsh Rugby Union president, criticised the sport's present set-up.

He claimed some were more concerned with retaining positions than changing the way the game is organised in Wales.

He said Welsh rugby had more of a club culture, but acknowledged that the regional system was here to stay.

"I think we like our clubs better than our regions - but it's probably too late to change," Williams told an audience at the 20th festival in the Powys town.

Asked what he would have done in his first 100 days as WRU president had he won the recent election instead of Glanmor Griffiths, he said the position was merely that of "figurehead".

But he said there was a lot to be done still to the image of the WRU and there were too many more concerned with their position on the committee next year than rugby this year.

Williams said more financial help was needed to develop young players, with many giving up at 16.

He also said there needed to be more on offer to make players more rounded, offering them opportunities to study as well as play if they wanted.

JPR Williams playing for Wales
The problem is the coach is obsessed with the physicality of the game now
JPR Williams

He also criticised the modern "power" game, exemplified by the "brutal" Guinness Premiership, and was interested to see what influence Grand Slam winning former Wales coach Mike Ruddock would have in his new job at Worcester.

"What he did in Wales in 2005 was like a breath of fresh air," he said to applause from the audience.

Another aspect of the modern game he regretted was its defensive nature.

"The problem is the coach is obsessed with the physicality of the game now," he said.

"The winning is so important... you can understand it because their jobs are on the line. I think it's sad."

Williams, who revealed he once played a five-set tennis match in Bournemouth before driving back to Bridgend for a match against Newport, said he was not sure that some of the players of his era would want to play in today's professional game.

"They wouldn't want to be caught on camera," he joked.

But he gave his backing to Gavin Henson, saying he could benefit from a rugby mentor: "We can't afford as a good rugby nation to lose players of his talent."

Now aged 58, he is still a fitness fanatic. He was still playing the game as flanker at the age of 54, climbed Kilimanjaro, and still cycles some 150 miles (240 km) a week, as well as fitting in squash.

Asked if it had been difficult combining his two 1970s roles as a doctor and as a rugby star, he joked that there were complications.

"I used to have to do two ward rounds - one with the consultant and one on my own.

"It was a dash to their ego when the patients were more keen to see me than to see them!"




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