Rugby, at its glorious best, is a wonderful game, loved by the players and the spectators involved. Thrilling games (such as the Ireland New Zealand game of 2013) filled with tries passion and tension is one of the true highlights of a season, however these are diminishing rapidly, no matter the different laws IRB introduce. A recent game between Newcastle and Brive clearly demonstrated this, one penalty try beaten by 3 penalties. A dire game made worse by the incessant whistle blowing of the referee, infringements in all facets of the game ruined the spectacle to the measly 3000 people who turned up to the misery. It’s not only the odd game however, even internationals are starting to see the problems. How can this be saved though, and it doesn’t just start at the elite level either?
Firstly, the scrums are ruining the game. New, effective laws have to be put into place, the crouch bind set rule is beneficial, but not enough. The refs aren’t policing the scrum enough, my recommendation is for the touchline referees to be scrum experts, and then they can look at the front rows engagement, while the referee can concentrate on the scrumhalves crooked feed (which they all are at the moment). Referees have so much to look at in the game, and because of the unique, intricate detail of the scrum, along with the sudden nature of the hit, referees can become confused by what is happening, leading to teams cheating there way through scrums.
Forwards have codes for weak hits that trick the referee to think that the opposition are ‘pre-pushing’ before the ball is in, this is not only illegal, but highly dangerous and can cause severe injuries. Offset scrummaging is often deployed to dwindle the clock down and to get penalties. Furthermore, deliberate collapsing is an abhorrent tactic, but widely used in this facet of the game. Increased scrutiny on the scrum, using a Television Match Official, scrum experts referring, and the possibility of citing offenders can all be used.
Moreover, at grassroots level, age groups should be based on size, ability and age. The typical stereotype of Rugby is putting thousands of young players of, children and especially teenagers grow at such different rates and different times in their development that a 5ft 7 stone player could come up against a 6ft 14 stone opposition member. This vast difference in size is unfair, dangerous and doesn’t benefit either of the two. The younger player will be off putted by Rugby because of the weekly bruising he’ll receive, and the bigger player, at no fault of his own, will try and run straight through other players, relying on his sheer size to play well, his other developments such as basic skills like handling will be severely hampered.
In addition, players should be categorized by pre-season trials at their local club, thus defining their ability and size to the RFU, the unbiased selectors from their local county union could then select the players into their own club groups. However there are a few downsides, so an age group jump should be limited to one year, and records routinely checked to see if squad tampering has occurred. This system is used in New Zealand and works very well, and look what happened to their national team? It keeps children enjoying the game.
Moreover, a global season will do wonders to the international game. A more structured, less attritional layout to the elite game will decrease player fatigue, and clean up the jumbled IRB ‘test windows’. If you look back to last year’s Lion tour, there was a lot of stress and bewilderment over the preparation and recovery time, and this was because the two hemispheres attempted to join their season together. It didn’t work and for the first two or so games, Warren Gatland couldn’t pick a full strength team.
For example, the Aviva Premiership Final takes place just 7 days before England’s tour of New Zealand, the first game will be a second team because of the jet lag and recovery protocols correctly introduced by the IRB. With better preparation and less player fatigue, a better, more expansive game will be bred, hopefully leading to more tries.
Also, introducing a four try bonus point system, along with the previously mentioned schemes to all competitions will encourage teams to win games, instead of ‘not losing’ them, this encouragement will inspire teams to play an attacking game.
These are all needed to allow the game to grow, or otherwise the likes of Football and Cricket will continue to grow above Rugby.