Who would want to dumb down our beautiful game?

gatesy Roar Guru

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    South Africa rugby is trialling a bunch of new laws in the Currie Cup this year to speed up and simplify the breakdown.

    One that I particularly like is Law 15.4(c), where there is no 360-degree ‘gate’.

    The tackler must get up before playing the ball and then can only play from their own side of the tackle ‘gate’ to make the ruck simpler for players and referees and more consistent with the rest of that law.

    The others are:

    Law 20.5 and 20.5 (d) Throwing the ball into the scrum
    No signal from referee. The scrum-half must throw the ball in straight, but is allowed to align their shoulder on the middle line of the scrum, therefore allowing them to stand a shoulder width towards their own side of the middle line.

    Rationale: to promote scrum stability, a fair contest for possession, while also giving the advantage to the team throwing in (non-offending team).

    Law 20.9 (b) Handling in the scrum – exception
    The number eight shall be allowed to pick the ball from the feet of the second-rows.

    Rationale: to promote continuity.

    Law 20 Striking after the throw-in
    Once the ball touches the ground in the tunnel, any front-row player may use either foot to try to win possession of the ball. One player from the team who put the ball in must strike for the ball.

    Sanction: free kick

    Rationale: to promote a fair contest for possession.

    Law 16 Ruck
    A ruck commences when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (tackled player, tackler). At this point the offside lines are created. Players on their feet may use their hands to pick up the ball as long as this is immediate. As soon as an opposition player arrives, no hands can be used.

    Rationale: to make the ruck simpler for players and referees.

    Law 16.4: Other ruck offences
    A player must not kick the ball out of a ruck. The player can only hook it in a backwards motion.

    Sanction: penalty

    Rationale: to promote player welfare and to make it consistent with scrum law.

    The six new aspects of law were part of the original 2015 laws review process, and were recommended to move to closed trial to provide a further analysis opportunity before a global trial could be considered.

    These closed trials were operational at the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championship, World Rugby Nations Cup, World Rugby Pacific Challenge, Americas Rugby Championship and Oceania Rugby U20 Championship, with positive outcomes.

    Law 15 (4) (c) means the tackler no longer has rights from where he finishes up in the tackle. He will now have to release the tackled player and get back behind and through the advantage line, and come in on his team’s side of the ruck. It’s meant to clean up rucks, eliminate the tackler from obstructing the tackled player getting at the ball and giving the halfback some clearance, and presumably assist the referee.

    Anything that speeds up the flow of continuity is a good initiative. Time and experience will tell.

    If you are rugby purist, standing on the sidelines close to the play, you can pretty much analyse what is going on in the rucks and mauls – in the early days of development of USA rugby they used to call them ‘dog piles’. Pretty apt.

    Recently, I was at Suncorp for the Brumbies vs Reds game. When the fog came down it was near impossible to appreciate anything other than when players were running with the ball (which wasn’t very often). Even the ground announcer gave up describing what the ref blew the whistle for, and let’s face it, a lot of rugby watchers wouldn’t know what the infringement was unless the ground announcer or the TV commentator tells them.

    I grew up watching the ‘dumbing down’ of rugby league, from the four-tackle rule to the six-tackle rule (designed for the sole intention of teams being able to beat the mighty Dragons), to imitating grid iron with their line-marking, to getting rid of most contests, except for the tackle. Then there was introducing shoulder charges and wrestling, and finally, the ultimate insult, de-powering the scrum.

    Leaguies think that the only worthwhile contest is smashing into each other. Seriously, it doesn’t take much imagination, does it?

    Don’t get me wrong. I love league and am a Broncos supporter. There are some brilliant athletes in that game, and highly professional people, and rugby can still learn a lot, but one of the reasons rugby league is so popular is that it is designed to be understood from the heights of the grandstand. To achieve that you need to make it simpler.

    So should rugby, but never to the extent of dumbing the game down.

    Our keepers of the flame do a pretty good job of that, and the old north-south divide of what people think is entertaining is slowly disappearing.

    Yes, the Northern Hemisphere still love their grinding style of footy, of which a lot might be to do with the weather. The Saffas do as, well, but I suspect that is more to do with their vision of manliness.

    Aussies love running rugby, such as we saw in the halcyon days of the late 1970s to the mid ’90s. I remember the ‘Greatest Test of All’ in Sydney 2000, when the All Blacks went into halftime four or five tries up and the Wallabies were shot ducks. Yet in the second half, the Wallabies blew the All Blacks off the park, or so it seemed, until Jonah Lomu crossed right at the death.

    The mood outside of the stadium that night was just electric. What a night and a true celebration of running rugby. That was the first game of rugby my new wife ever saw and she was hooked from that day on.

    But I digress.

    The South African experiment with the ruck, tackle and breakdown is thoughtful and innovative. In theory, they should make the breakdown and the contests that much easier for the ref to adjudicate and for the punters to understand what is happening – even from the highest heights of the grandstand.

    It is a great example of how to innovate without dumbing down.

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