Thursday, 26 November 2009

For Ruck's Sake!

The International Rugby Board council meets next week, and with more players spending time on the physio's bench rather than trotting around the pitch it is highly likely that changes to the laws of the game might be on the agenda.  The number of players out injured at any given time in a Guinness Premiership squad is estimated to be around 25%.  This coupled with the perception that crowds are being forced to prop their eyelids open due to the many snore-inducing games of defensive ping-pong rugby, means that the game is in danger of damaging its appeal to fans and young players like. 

Sure there are always exceptionally exciting games, and yes some games are fascinating and nail-biting without including a rake of tries.  Look at the Scotland vs Australia game last weekend for example.  There was a solitary try but it was a tense, exciting game.  However, on the whole it could be argued that the champagne rugby of yesteryear has been replaced by a rather depressing looking bottle of flat cider.  Not very appetizing.

I apologise as I'm going to go all Statto now, but I think it proves a point: 
This year the average number of tries per game in the autumn internationals (to date) is 2.86.  In 2007 it was 7 tries per game.  Last year the average number of tries scored in a Guinness Premiership game was 4.12.  So far this season it is a measly 2.63.  A quick glance at the Premiership table reveals only five attacking bonus points have been won this year as opposed to twenty three losing bonus points.

Yes, defensive play is the new black.

So what are the solutions to nip this tedium in the bud and get teams playing expansive exciting rugby whilst moving to reduce the number of injuries? 

Here are a few suggestions that are currently doing the rounds, some which I agree with - others not so much.

Rucking good fun

Bring back rucking
Quick ball anyone?  Yes please.  Then I say bring back rucking.  Oh no, but mummy and daddy won't let little Timmy play if rucking is brought back as it's far too rough.  Yes, I can see their point, but as Peter de Villiers rightly said: it ain't tiddlywinks folks.  OK, so Timmy might get a few scratches on his back, but after he's been rucked a couple of times he'll know to get his arse out of the there as soon as possible.  The net effect?  A few red marks and much quicker ball.  Oh, and don't sweat it Timmy: as you'll discover in a few years time - chicks dig scars.

Rolling substitutions?
The RFU taskforce brought together after the rather long and drawn out 'Bloodgate' scandal suggested the introduction of rugby league-style "rolling substitutions" as one possible way of dealing with the increasingly physical nature of the modern game.  Is this really an answer or will it encourage players to pile on the muscle at the expense of their stamina and fitness because they won't be expected to last eighty minutes anymore?  (Well in truth, can any man really last that long?)  I think that rolling substitutions would only encourage there to be bigger players and this won't actually resolve the injury issues as they will still continue to run into each other.  I don't want to see rugby turn into some hackneyed version of the NFL, where a specialist team of "Scrummagers" stomps onto the pitch only to be replaced by a fleet of twinkled toe prancers once the ball is back in their own half.  Not that I really imagine that this will happen, but it's a scary thought none the less.

Bring in an Independent Doctor
This would make sure that Tom (Dick or Harry) haven't been chewing on blood capsules and they really have got a cut lip, bless them.  Then again, how would an independent doctor be able to tell if the replacement hooker really has stumbled off with 'concussion', or if it is just a tactical ploy to save his team from being annihilated in the scrum and instead allow them to bend over and tickle each other's bums like they do in rugby league with the easier uncontested version?

Two heads sometimes aren't better than one

Reducing the number of substitutions?
Hmm, interesting.  This would place the importance firmly on player fitness and probably reduce the number of pie-eating props ambling round.  Well they'd have to get in shape, otherwise their lack of fitness would see a parade of tries being waltzed in by the opposition whilst they flail around on the touchline begging for gas and air.

The 10 metre Mark
With the breakdown shrouded in mystery like some sort of black art, and with referees all to quick too penalise the attacker for holding on to the ball for 0.1 seconds once they've been tackled, it's no surprise that the ball carrier would rather aimlessly hoof the ball up field rather than risk having half a dozen fat blokes fall on them and then get pinged for not releasing.  However, if the defending team could 'mark' the ball anywhere up to the 10-metre line in their half (or maybe even up to halfway?) it would deter aimless kicking and open up the game.  If you're going to kick then it had better be good.  In principal I like this idea, although it would need to be trialled to see if it has the desired effect.

Crouch.  Touch.  Pause.  Engage.
This new mantra at scrum time was brought in to help protect those playing in the front row, but since this has been introduced, how often have you seen a scrum disintegrate and result in a free kick?  Lots.  Maybe referees need to go to scrum school and sort out how they're going to police scrums once and for all.

So there you go.  What do you think?

Whether the IRB will go ahead and change any laws before the 2011 World Cup remains to be seen, but with the mounting injuries and the vogue for pointless kicking, maybe their hand will be forced.

We will see next week.


1 comment:

  1. Cerdo Justiciero13 April 2010 at 08:58

    Good ideas, something to think about. Rucking will make little Timmy a tough boy indeed.