The Roar
The Roar


The demise of rugby union

Israel Folau. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
29th June, 2018
1390 Reads

Administrators, officials and referees are killing the game.

It is not hyperbole or exaggeration to say that rugby is becoming less watchable and less attractive.

Refereeing directives and rules thought up in the bowels of World Rugby in Dublin are sanitising the essence of the contest and tearing at the very fabric of the game.

Those responsible for rugby union are betraying its history by a deliberate but misguided campaign of appeasement.

Appeasement of parents who would never let their children play rugby anyway. Appeasement of hyperventilating medicos. Appeasement of do-gooder politicians who would have boxing gyms banned, contact sports restricted to adults only and children banned from walking in fields of cotton wool.

In fact the rules now cascading down from above are designed to appease just about everyone except for those who have played, supported and followed rugby union their whole lives.

And herein lies the problem. So much effort has gone into the appeasement of sections of the community that never supported rugby to begin with that the actual rugby community is thinning and in varying stages of decline.

The French series in New Zealand and the Irish series in Australia produced no fewer than eight cards in six Test matches.

As if trying to prove a point that Super Rugby can be ‘policed’ too, there were four cards in 80 minutes of farcical refereeing and television replays.

Israel Folau Australia Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup Wallabies 2017

The Israel Folau suspension has been heavily criticised (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Steve Hansen recently said “While we are busy trying to eradicate concussion and stuff, we’ve also got to acknowledge that it’s a contact sport, that there will be the odd accident.”

Yet we are now seeing nanny state ideology creeping into rugby union despite the protestations of just about everyone associated with the game including both men who coached the sides who contested the Rugby World Cup 2015 Final.

The Israel Folau saga is the most high-profile incident symbolising the sanitisation of the game.

In any AFL, rugby league or Gaelic football season there are several incidents where players contest aerially for possession of the ball and land unfortunately. In fact, even soccer has its share of similar falls.

Yet we now face a situation where effectively players are prohibited from contesting high balls for fear of ‘interfering’ with the opposition. Where athletes who can leap high are punished for doing so.

Then there is the nonsense of lifting tackles. The sending off of Jordan Petaia for lifting beyond the horizontal in Auckland was another sign of over policing of the game.

There is nothing wrong with lifting and driving providing someone does not plunge head first into the ground. If a broken neck is not in prospect then a card or tribunal visit should not be either!


Even worse than the Petaia card was the card handed out to Taniela Tupou supposedly for not using his arms in the tackle. I say supposedly because he did. As the commentator noted “his left arm is doing what t is meant to be.”

Yet inexplicably, despite what seemed liked a 100 replays of the ‘no armed’ tackle, the referee sent the Tongan Thor off. Sent off for playing rugby!

Taniela Tupou

Taniela Tupou of the Wallabies (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

There have been dozens of similar occurrences over the past 12 months fuelled by instant replays on big screens, the card system and nervous, some may say skittish referees.

Rugby union quite simply can’t afford anymore of this nonsense.

At a time when rugby league has again benefitted from an incredibly hard-fought Origin series and soccer is getting its dose of World Cup fever, union is a laughing stock.

People watch rugby union because it is a hard fought, free flowing spectacle. Or used to be.

People play rugby union because it is a test of endurance, strength and mental attrition. Or used to be.


The game has never been everyone’s cup of tea so World Rugby should accept that fact and move on from courting those who will never understand why some of us love it.

If we continue down the path of sanitisation and appeasement the game will be lost to the nanny state brigade forever.