The Roar
The Roar


Turnovers killing the great game of running rugby

Wales will be stretched to defeat New Zealand, but it should be a cracking contest. (David Davies/PA Wire.)
Roar Guru
2nd November, 2015

Rugby’s critical advantage over other sports is its ability to generate long passages of building, fluid momentum that grow and grow.

This includes defences broken down, stretched and eluded in manifold ways before an immensely satisfying conclusion can be reached.

Most other large team sports are hampered by interruption of different kinds be it in the structure of the game (NFL, cricket, baseball), the flow of attack through passing (soccer), or in a case where there is a comparable form of continuity (basketball), the scores are simply too quickly and easily achieved to be as appealing.

Rugby offers the only sport in the world where like a symphony or narrative drama the action develops and moves to ever changing crescendos before emerging mysteriously into something hinted at in the preceding development but ultimately unforeseeable. The result, like a plot twist or final transformation of a musical motif, is miraculous.

Or is it? This would be the case if it weren’t for the northern hemisphere’s influence on the rules and in the case under consideration, turnovers.

Turnovers rip the heart of rugby asunder. They cut down the nascent life force of the game in its prime life. They kill the beauteous, continuous, vital time of the live ball and replace it with the death of a kick to touch, followed by the zombification of the walk to and execution of the line out.

They are a form of anti-rugby, and it is no surprise that it is the northern hemisphere who love them. Not only do they allow for the set pieces which though essential are inferior to the ambrosial sporting transfiguration of running rugby, but in light of the weakness of northern hemisphere teams, they allow weak northern hemisphere packs to defeat high octane southern hemisphere units of skill and speed.

They are an attempt to steal, not win, rugby matches.


No one wishes to see turnovers. They are of partial, but extremely limited aesthetic interest in comparison to the heaven of running rugby their existence must needs slaughter. Stoppage kills movement and life.

Turnovers are monstrous. They stop play. If an interpretation of the rules is current that allows them to attain the dominance they enjoy at the moment, it prevents any team from playing expansive rugby for fear of an isolated player being turned over.

Gone are the sweeping, endless, divine moves to the edge of the pitch to outthink and outrun the opposition, and heavy duty battering must take their place. Gone are the breathless, inspired assaults from deep, gone the halcyon days of rugby from the late 90s at the dawn of professionalism when someone still cared about what the spectators thought.

It is that endless summer dream of rugby that is the pinnacle of all sports, but which requires far less competition at the breakdown in order to string multiplying phases and encourage transcendent sporting ambition.

This is rugby’s trump card, but it is being stamped on by the northern likes of Ireland, whose eight turnovers in the first 60 minutes of the pool match against France mark a desecration of everything that rugby stands for.

Some competition at the breakdown may be reasonable, but as little as possible.

When there is a turnover players should be forced to tap and run so as to preserve what momentum there is. But even then teams must be confident in being able to secure numerous phases of possession in succession, or they will never attempt the life-giving higher existence of expansive running rugby that should be its ultimate destiny.