Change Please!

After Italy’s ‘no-ruck’ tactics against England, there were a number of fans and pundits who were unhappy with the tactic and felt that there was no place for it in rugby. There were also rumours that World Rugby would look into amending the rule at the end of the season. I seem to have been in the minority that actually really enjoyed watching the Italians use such a different tactic so well and will be disappointed if World Rugby outlaw this just because the England players weren’t able to adapt to the Italian game.

Though I have no problem with the no-ruck tactics, I do feel that there are some rules and situations that World Rugby do need to have a look at changing to improve the game:

 

Scrums

As someone who has regularly played in the front row, it would be fair to expect me to enjoy watching scrums. I really don’t! So much of the 80 minutes is wasted on constant reset scrums, only for the whole debacle to finally end in a penalty or free kick 5 minutes after the scrum was initially awarded. If I’m not enjoying this part of the game, then I hate to imagine how someone who is less of a fanatic feels. I think this could be improved by taking a similar approach to that of PRO Rugby in the USA, where a free kick would be awarded if a team delayed formation of the scrum within 30 seconds, set up incorrectly, didn’t crouch ear-to-ear, bound incorrectly, did not remain square and steady or fed the ball into the scrum at an angle.

I think it would be great if this was taken on board as it is infuriating watching teams taking forever to get ready correctly. These are professional front rowers and yet they are having to be coached by the ref as to how to scrummage properly, this should not be the case! Anything that can speed up the scrum while keeping it safe is surely better for the game.

If nothing else, the feeding at the scrum needs addressing. The only thing rarer than a straight feed in professional rugby is a scrum half getting penalised for feeding at an angle! The whole idea of the scrum is for it to be a contest as well as a means to restart the game. Though I don’t agree with everything Brian Moore says, I firmly believe his assessment that straight feeds would help stabilise the scrums, as the defending team would not have to push early in order to have a chance to steal the ball. A straight feed would also encourage the hookers to hook the ball back through the scrum (hence the name of their position), so this would also help reduce the number of scrums that end up collapsing after the ball has got stuck half way back to the number 8.

So not only would this stricter approach to scrums improve the quality of play, but it may also improve the safety of the forwards, especially those in the tight five.

Buying penalties

If there’s one thing that annoys me more than scrums at the moment, it would be scrum halves buying offside penalties by deliberately passing the ball into a retreating defender. I understand that the defender is technically offside, but is he really interfering with play if the pass is not going anywhere near a member of the attacking team? In my opinion, buying a penalty is no different to diving or flopping at minimal contact. Under World Rugby’s amended laws from last summer, ‘Any player who dives or feigns injury in an effort to influence the match officials will be liable for sanction’ so why should throwing a pass into a retreating player in an effort to influence the match officials be treated any different? I have noticed a couple of referees recently give penalties for offside but then give the scrum half a warning that next time they would be the one penalised, so it is good to see referees are paying attention to it, but why should the scrum half get away with cheating in the first instance, as that could be the instance that decides the outcome of a game?

Forward pass

When is a forward pass not a forward pass? Apparently, the answer is ‘when the hands go backwards’. I can understand the logic behind this, as momentum and high winds could cause the ball to go forward even if the hands have gone backwards, but surely we should not be getting to a point where we are having to rely on cameras far from the action and atless-than-ideal angles in order to decide whether a player’s hands went backwards. It’s not as if the quality of attacking play was poor before a forward pass was judged by the direction of the hands – just watch that Gareth Edwards try for the Barbarians in 1973 – and would make the job of the officials a lot easier!

Obstruction

Law 10.1 (c) & (d) states that ‘a player must not intentionally move or stand in a position that prevents an opponent from tackling a ball carrier/playing the ball’ and yet every time we see a scrum half preparing to clear their lines with a box kick, we see a number of players fanning out either side of the ruck to stop the opposition getting close enough to charge the kick down. Anywhere else on the field this would be a penalty but at a breakdown officials will turn a blind eye. The vast majority of the time the player can’t even use the excuse that they were in the ruck as they have not entered through the gate as they should, so there is no reason that this should be allowed.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I have noticed a lot of games recently where players have successfully cleared out a ruck and then grab hold of a defender near the breakdown to prevent them moving away into a position to counter the next attack. If anything, this is even worse than blockers at a kick as rather than buying a player an extra half a second to get a kick away this could potentially lead to a gap for a player to break through and lead to a try.

 

Though some of these, such as the forward pass rule would require World Rugby to amend the existing laws, many of these are already in the laws but do not get penalised by the officials. I appreciate that there is a lot for the officials to watch out for, but many of these offences are so blatant from players it would be relatively simple to take a zero tolerance approach to these actions. Hopefully doing so would help contribute to a safer and more exciting game of rugby for players and fans alike.

 

If you could change one law, what would it be and why? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

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