Never underestimate rugby’s lawmakers
We should never underestimate the ability of rugby’s lawmakers to make the game complicated.
They tell us that the game has fewer stoppages now, fewer scrum resets, less kicking, and the ball is in play more than it was five years ago, although that statement was issued before the weekend just gone, when the Bulls and Waratahs in particular turned kicking the ball away into an art form.
But really what we want, is for the game to be simplified a little…take out some of the grey areas, leave a little less room for ”interpretation”. Instead, just when we are getting used to the last lot of applications, alterations and variations, out comes another lot.
Last week the IRB sent out a list to be trialled from later this year, some of them yet to be fully determined, and at great risk to my mental health, I have tried to peruse a few of them.
1) It does seem eminently sensible to do away with the accursed “pause” before the scrum engage. Props don’t do pause, they don’t understand it, it is not in their DNA, and therefore it is not fair to ask the poor rabid bulldogs to strain against the leash a split second longer than they really have to.
So now we will have “Crouch….touch…..set.” I presume set means the same as engage, so I’m not sure why they have changed that bit. Now props will have to learn a new word.
2) If a knock-on goes into touch the defending team has the option of a scrum or a lineout. OK, it’s not a silly idea, but really it’s just another paragraph to add to the already bulging book. Why bother?
3) Teams will have five seconds to clear the ball from the back of a ruck. Let me guess….a Frenchman came up with this one after seeing the All Blacks tie up the ball for the last five minutes of the World Cup final.
There are three sides to this argument.
Firstly, if you have won possession, why shouldn’t you be allowed to cling lovingly to the ball in order to close the game out?
Opposing argument…it’s boring, does nothing for the spectacle, reduces the opposition to jibbering bystanders who will inevitably give away a penalty in a forlorn effort to get their hands on the ball.
And thirdly I’m sure there is now scope for a whole new realm of controversy over when the five seconds starts, and how fast or slow the refs count…although to be fair, they will be required to tell the player to “use it”.
4) Widening the scope of the TMO. Before we start jumping on this one way or the other, let’s just remember that it is just a proposal, and they are calling for discussions on how best to do this, which is disturbingly sensible.
We all want an end to tries being scored from forward passes, or after feet have touched the line, knock-ons and so on, but this could be opening a can of worms, and anyone who watches rugby league will see compelling evidence of just how out of hand it can get. In Australia’s NRL almost every try is sent “upstairs” where TMOs scour through the footage looking for any one of half a dozen reasons why not to award a try. It is well intentioned, but it becomes a complete cop out, and will make games longer by several minutes.
And just how far back downfield do they go, and for what transgressions are they allowed to rule on? Interestingly, forward passes are not included in the league review system.
5) International teams will now have eight reserves, with a requirement for a specialist hooker and two recognised props. I can think of a few front rowers in the dark past who would have killed for this one.
There are others, and the fine print on a few will have to be sorted out between now and November, when they will be introduced at international level.
What I find hard to understand is why there is nothing pertaining to the ruck/maul/tackle etc which is where we get the greatest amount of controversy.
I guess all we can hope for is that the referees do a better, more consistent job of policing the existing laws, and for those who believe miracles really do happen, players and their coaches might try a little harder to actually play within the rules.
Finally, a few observations from the weekend.
• The Bulls kicked the ball away 25 times during the game in Dunedin. Some were well chased and contested, but the majority went straight to hand. It is a formula that might work when you are ahead, but it makes it hard to win from behind, when you are just lumping the ball down the field. They eventually changed tactics and could have won it, but why did it take so long?
• I don’t think Rocky Elsom and Craig Joubert will be sending each other Christmas cards. Joubert is a brilliant ref and a reasonable man, but for some reason Elsom seems to get right up his nose. Sure, the penalty count was lop sided, and maybe Craig was a little tough on them, but for the second week running, the ‘Tahs simply did not play smart.
• During the Crusaders-Blues game, Ali Williams and George Whitelock got into a scuffle, soon to be joined by Owen Franks and Tony Woodcock. Then the next day they all went off to an All Black training camp together. And did you see Kieran Read in the stands laughing when Richie McCaw dropped a pass stone cold with the line in sight? What is it that rugby players enjoy so much about each other's clanging mistakes?
• Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper, Berrick Barnes or even James O’Connor for Wallaby number 10? Not a bad lot to choose from. I’d go Beale.
And in response to comments posted last week :
• Robbie Fruean has not made the All Blacks because he still has issues with his defence. Awesome attacker though. Andre Taylor is good, but not the finished article. Dagg is a given, Ben Smith has more experience.
• Jake White is a genius. He has taken an understrength, injury-hit side, previously poisoned by egotistical players, and turned them into a classy, competitive unit that I will be picking to beat the Reds this weekend. He has uncomplicated game plans, Jake, but he is a master at building a team dynamic.
• Finally to Jurie Venter…mate you wouldn’t want me as Springbok coach.. I would pick Toks van der Linde at scrummy, Kobus Weise at 10 and Breyton Paulse at tighthead prop…I am a Kiwi after all!!!!