Rugby is undergoing a health-and-safety transformation this season, and England flanker Tom Wood is among a multitude of current players with grave fears about the future of their sport.

As the edicts and crack-downs keep coming, the misgivings among participants are growing. 'It is kind of ruining the game at the moment,' said Northampton's captain, in the midst of a red-card epidemic. 'It really is a worry,' Wood said in an interview with the Daily Mail.

What concerns Wood and so many others who are trying to make sense of it all is that the character of a game founded on confrontation is changing beyond all recognition.

While the policies being unveiled by administrators are based on noble objectives, the up-shot has been confusion and chaos, with players being sent off and sin-binned for offences based on outcome, rather than malicious intent. All around Europe, innocent mistakes are being heavily punished.


Earlier this week, a new zero-tolerance approach in relation to contact with the head came into effect, in a bid to stave off the spectre of concussion. But players are already struggling in vain to cope with the hard-line officiating of so-called dangerous tackles involving opponents in the air. A genuine attempt to compete for the ball is not considered a mitigating defence.

Wood is at a loss to understand what is going on all around him - a sudden pile-up of perceived injustices. Voicing the thoughts of so many of his peers, the England flanker told Sportsmail: 'I don't know how you are going to keep what we all love about the game by sanitising it, as we seem to be doing at the moment.

'I honestly don't know who is making the rules. I'm sure their intentions are good. It is hard to blame referees. They get the blame a lot of the time, but they're not their directives; they're just enforcing what they have been told to enforce.

'It seems crazy to change things in the middle of the season. It feels like an absolute lottery. What you get away with one week is a red card the following week. You've got good, honest players who don't intentionally hurt anyone other than in a physical, competitive rugby sense (getting into trouble). Look at Elliot Daly, sent off in the England game - things like that.

'I don't know the answers but there has to be a better solution. Personally, I just wish it would go back to being the wild west, when you policed it yourself a bit. If you were brave enough to be on the wrong side of a ruck, the marks on your back were like badges of honour back in the day.

'There is obviously a middle ground and a sensible conclusion, but it is hard to get real consistency in it when you are asking referees to police everything to the letter of the law. It really is a worry.'

This afternoon, Wood will lead the Saints into an Aviva Premiership clash with Bristol at Franklin's Gardens. Much is at stake for both clubs, but the fixture will proceed against a backdrop of trepidation among those taking part, knowing that one false move, however accidental, could see the sky fall in, on themselves and their team.

High kicks are generating a contest for possession now laced with danger. 'Genuinely competing for a high ball and being red-carded because someone topples over just seems crazy to me,' said Wood. 'If you are tackling someone with his feet off the floor, then you are to blame. But if you are aiming to catch the ball, how can you be at fault?

'As an example, if I stand under a high ball, I'm in a position to catch it, my eyes are on the ball and I'm not moving, but someone runs towards me and tries to beat me to the ball by jumping, topples over my shoulders and lands on his face, I will get red-carded. But how am I at fault? You could get to a point where people contrive those situations and throw themselves into the air.'

His concerns extend beyond that one aspect of the game. The war on concussion is a vital one, but Wood suggested that there has to be a sense of realism; an acceptance that a full-contact sport will always generate injuries of all kinds, no matter how carefully it is regulated.

'The reason I play rugby is because it is so attritional and macho, to an extent,' he said.

'It's all about fierce competition. That's why people love playing and watching it. I think we are in danger, with the rules we are setting, of over-stepping the mark now.'