I absolutely love rugby as a sport but these 9 changes would more than help to improve the game as a spectacle;
1 – Scrums
It’s time for the IRB to stop messing around with the engagement calls and just focus on the point of a scrum (re-starting play). To this end let’s let the game continue wherever possible, once the scrum is set, if the ball is available to play then the game should continue even if the front rows collapse. The obvious exception to this is should the collapse be deemed dangerous, in which case the game must be halted.
Just watch the video below to see how when the players organised themselves the scrums stood up no problem at all. Endless engagement calls and referees taking a lifetime to set the scrum then allow the scrum-half to feed the ball lead to countless collapses. This way the props can go burrowing for truffles with their snouts in the turf all they like as play can continue without them. Not only will this speed the game up but it will also open up play with the tight five tied into the scrum.
In order for this to work properly referee’s will have to instruct teams to use the ball once it has been presented at the base of the scrum. This would work in a similar way to the five second rule at rucks and stop teams using the scrum as a weapon for earning penalties as this is not the point of a scrum.
2 – Scrum Penalties
Following on from the issue of speeding up scrums, something that really needs clamping down on is the way in which teams are awarded penalties at scrum time. There have been a number of occasions recently when teams have been penalised and some props even sent to the bin simply for going backwards. To me this is genuinely astonishing, players aren’t penalised for going backwards in the tackle so why should they be in the scrum?
There will always be occasions when you come up against an opponent or even entire pack who are considerably stronger or have considerably better technique. The amount of pressure going through your neck means there is no choice but to back off, frankly players who go back in a scrum should be applauded for keeping the damn thing up instead of taking the easy route and going to ground.
It would also make sense for referees to utilise the other officials at scrum times in order to help them make sense of what is going on as at present it seems most referees are simply guessing who has caused the collapse. Why not give the ‘fourth official’ specialist scrum training and bring them on specifically for scrums so at least there is an official on both sides of the scrum.
3 – The Scrum Feed
A fairly simple one, but somehow it still remains a persistent issue. Despite an IRB directive at the beginning of the season, the number of crooked feeds seems to be growing by the week. Whilst we continue allowing crooked feeds to be a norm in the game, the scrum is never going to be a true contest. Referees need to be regularly reviewed on this and any failing to properly implement the law will be dropped for the following weeks games.
Once referees regularly start penalising sides for not feeding straight they will soon start to follow the laws. This particular point would be greatly improved upon by introducing the additional scrum referee as mentioned above.
4 – Line-Outs
I have two issues currently with line-outs, the first is throwing the ball straight. Why the hell do referees continue to stand to the side of the line-out where they can struggle for perspective on the trajectory of the ball. I can understand the concerns about potentially getting in the way should the ball come off the back of the line-out, but in that case why isn’t the touch judge stood behind the thrower? At the moment crooked throws are regularly ruining the line-out as a contest.
The other issue I have, and it’s one I’ve only recently noticed is hookers stepping across before a throw. If you watch the hooker in the clip below closely you will notice him shuffling across slightly to give his team the advantage as even though he is throwing the ball straight, it is being thrown closer to his own jumper. This tactic is becoming increasingly prevalent in the professional game and needs officials clamping down on it asap.
5 – The TMO
I think it’s fantastic that rugby continues to embrace technology in order to improve the game, but at the moment the use of the TMO is getting silly. The TMO should be used to check the last phase of a potential try and to review any potential foul-play, other than this it should be left alone. The amount of time that is wasted checking back 16 phases to make sure there isn’t a hint of a forward pass is getting stupid and needs eradicating.
I can understand the need to check the ball has been grounded or who threw the first punch, but beyond that, if the referee and touch judges aren’t able to spot a forward pass then it probably isn’t significant enough to have given the attacking team a serious advantage. I hate seeing spectacular tries ruled out because the TMO has gone back 12 phases and spotted the slightest forward pass in the teams own 22. Let’s keep the game flowing and stop fans and players getting cold whilst they wait around for ten minutes awaiting a decision.
6 – The Clock
Stop the clock! Quite literally, whether it be scrum feeds, penalty kicks or line-outs – the ball should be stopped when it is not in play. Fans pay to watch 80 minutes of rugby but rarely see much more than half of that due to the amount of time wasting that goes on. Either players need to be sped up or the clock should be paused whilst the forwards struggle to lug themselves to line-outs or scrums and whilst the kickers roll out their disco moves before taking a kick (just watch the near minute it takes James O’Connor to take this penalty below).
7 – Rucks
Whether it be players throwing themselves in from every which way or entire front rows bedding down for the night on top of the ball, referees need to clamp down on these infringements. Equally the referee’s also need to start implementing the 5 second rule at the base of the ruck in order to speed up the time in which it takes to recycle the ball.
8 – Mauls
This new rule allowing players to keep hold of the ball once ‘maul’ has been caused may be resulting in plenty of turnovers but is doing nothing for the game as a spectacle. Mauls should be treated just like tackles in that the ball must be released by both sides once it has gone to ground in order to speed up the recycling process. This again gets the ball back in play faster and opens up space for the backs to exploit whilst the pack are tied into the maul.
9 – The Season
Let’s face it, whilst the purists may love mud baths won by a penalty or two, for the majority watching a free flowing game of rugby with lots of running and tries is much more entertaining. There’s a reason that Super Rugby is a much more entertaining spectacle than any of the Northern Hemisphere club competitions – namely that they get to play in drier conditions.
We should therefore look at moving the Northern Hemisphere season so that more of the games are played during the summer months when pitches are drier. This will not only help to create more exciting, entertaining rugby, but will also make arranging internationals much easier with the Northern and Southern hemispheres seasons being aligned.
What area of rugby would you most like to change?