Professional rugby is getting everything wrong. By everything I mean, the money, the broadcasting, the refereeing, the TMO. Rugby has to compete for a place in world wide sport on TV or streaming and in this process they are losing the spirit of rugby.
My apologies, this article is long but it needs to be long because there is a lot wrong with rugby. There is no easy solutions either but first going back to the basics would be a step forward.
Before we dissect the rucks, mauls, TMO's and solutions let me try to explain what rugby is to me and why it is not what it was/can be.
Rugby is the sport that comes closest to imitating life.
Rugby is the sport that comes closest to imitating life. Other sports measures many skills. Athletics is the sport that measures individual performance for very specific things. How far can the best man in the tribe throw a spear? Who can run down a wounded antelope over 3000 metres or who will the tribe nominate to carry a message quickly over 21 kilometres.
Rugby is the sport that measures the tribe.. The team dynamics, leadership, team spirit and general complexities and chaos that is life. The big people, the fat people, the round people, the slow and powerful or the quick. The predictable, the honest, the deceptive, clever or foolhardy. Other team sports like soccer are limited in that it only measures running, kicking and acting. And in rugby the tribe is not running down an antelope or gathering fruit. No, the tribe is measured against another tribe equally adept. The fighting, close contest part of it, is very intimate and individual at times, battles within a war, but individual contributions to the score are only possible after concentrated team effort.
And in this chaos there are the basic rules of how to start a game, how to restart a game, how to handle disputes, how to defend and how to support the action. There are many unwritten rules. More on this later.
Respect is very important. You respect the referee. You know the rules are the same and the referee will make the same number of marginal calls in favour of either team. There is no time to argue, the next battle is upon us. And you respect a hard tackle from your team mate in practise and from the opposition of the day. That is maybe its best similarity to life. It is very tit for tat. What you give is what you get and what you get is what you give.
Rugby has a tradition richer than other sports.
Rugby is not just a sport, it is more than that. It comes with the songs teams sing, the stadium songs, sitting next to the enemy supporter and cheering your team but clapping the opposition if they play well.
There are simple mistakes when execution fails and then you get a scrum, and then there are naughtiness, when you know the law but break it, and for that you are penalised. A penalty, a yellow card or a red card.
There are a lot of things happening off the ball that no one sees but is a vital part of the game. For that there are unwritten rules. What happens on the field does not have a life of the field. Yes people can try to resuscitate a dead duck on Twitter and debate issues forever but the whistle was blown. One of the key aspects of rugby is that you have to prove yourself on the field. You have to do what you have to do. And you stand by it whether good or bad.
What is wrong?
There are many things wrong. Mostly old laws with new interpretations discovered weekly by EVERYONE. From commentators, tweeps, analysts, couch potatoes, podcast hosts and even Nigel has their opinion.
Every TMO decision sets a precedent or define new interpretations. With all the stoppages people have time to analyse everything to death. I much prefer the time when commentators stirred the frenzy and passion and did not analyse every tackle. And it is comical how commentators shoot themselves in the foot or worse try to justify their interpretation. There are too much opinions and post analysis.
Recent examples. Knock on - a ball has to be regathered before it touches the ground (even if it goes backwards???).
A player with the ball may dive for the line but cannot jump over person coming in low for a tackle. Where is that written? It is not that I dispute the good common sense or intent of such a law but I doubt it exist.
Often the spirit of the law is represented by the referee. Some referees really regulate the play and some others pedantically try to create the ideal world in every situation, by finding every minute error.
My pet peeves
No-arm tackles and high-tackles or attackers penalised for fending off high-tacklers.
Stop new penalty advantage, new penalty advantage, new penalty advantage. With second error blow it up and award that advantage. Do not allow 5 minute of play.
A scrum do not have to end in a penalty but blow it up when safety is a concern.
Throw the ball in straight at the scrum and referee that.
Make rucks important again. Let the teams contest for the ball longer in rucks.
Diving into a ruck. Bind with arms first, stay on your feet and do not come charging in with shoulder to head injuries.
Currently you have a blitz jackal or uncontested with a defensive line in starting blocks, ready to sprint, behind the last feet in the ruck.
Getting hands on a ball in the jackal position does not mean a instant penalty. It means you can contest the ball. You only get the penalty if the attacker is still holding on to the ball.
Rucks are fast heading in the direction of rugby league ridiculous tackle tussle situation. In league comical situation tackler and tackled are still contesting. In rugby they are not allowed but the two arriving players are making a sorry spectacle of what rucks should be.
A ruck is formed when at least one player from each team are on their feet and bound over the top of the ball.
It should be convincing tries. Planting a flag (the ball) in the castle of the opposition. Downward pressure on the ball and clearly on the line.
A forward pass should not go to TMO. The ref and touch judges can judge that and if they missed it they missed it. I can live with that instead of more TMO's that creates a mockery of the sport. Every rugby player knows when a ball is forward and every rugby player has at one time or another felt the referee did not see a forward pass. That factor of uncertainty is part of rugby. Play convincingly.
- running down the clock
Possible counter measures
Speed up the game. There are too many stoppages to argue or recover. In rugby we do not break for tea.
Not enough effective counter rucking Pick and drive instead of binding and waiting for 9
TMO in under a minute. Not clear is not clear.