The Roar
The Roar


Don't go changing rugby union's laws

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Roar Guru
13th November, 2019

I suppose it is natural that after every Rugby World Cup there will be analysis and speculation over what worked, what didn’t work and suggestions coming forth on what World Rugby can do to improve the game.

It is also important to consider where these opinions and suggestions originate as to validate their objective analysis and suggestions.

South Africa is not immune to criticism in the manner they play. Their core values and strengths will always steer them in the direction of structured play and therefore they often receive criticism as being boring and predictable. They will rather sell out their mothers than play attractive rugby.

I must confess I never consider law changes in the game of rugby, purely because I personally think rugby is fine the way it is.

It is a game of possession, or should I say a game where competition for possession presents itself in every facet of play.

You compete for possession at every scrum, ruck, tackle, line out and box kick etc. This would suggest that free flowing rugby or ball in play minutes are unlikely to improve to over 40 minutes per match ever, unless of course World Rugby wants to go the route of rugby league. This would involve changing the laws to the point where the fundamental elements of rugby – competition for possession – is minimised to the point where each of the facets such as line outs, rucks, scrums are devalued.

I for one hope that never happens, as rugby for me is undeniably unique due to the complexity of the game.

Izack Rodda going to work at the lineout

Izack Rodda going to work at the lineout. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

Enter Jeremy Guscott and his suggestion that World Rugby need to re-evaluate the bench. He said World Rugby should reduce the number of players that can be replaced on a tactical and injury basis to only three.


You may still have eight on the bench to cover all positions, but the bench is really only there to provide options in case of injury.

Thus the bench as a tactical weapon for the coach is reduced to a non-starter.

Jeremy Guscott’s reasoning behind this suggestion is that the South African ‘Bomb Squad’ with a 6/2 split provides them with an advantage that (reading between the lines) is not in the spirit of the game.

Why should they be able to effectively replace their tight five after the first half and continue to gain ascendancy over their opponents, thereby negating the concept of having fit enough players to manage 80 minutes of rugby?

Sorry Jeremy, but I disagree completely. Firstly, ball in play minutes have increased and are higher now than ever before if reports are to be believed, players are currently fitter than they have ever been, the game has become more physical than ever before, player management is part of the substitution game.

The reason why you have eight replacements on the bench serves two purposes, injury and sustainability of play.

As for the “Bomb Squad” you don’t approve of, every team has exactly the same number of substitutions, every coach has his own tactical selections of how he believes it will benefit his side.

There has also been widespread criticism of the number of scrum penalties South Africa earned from Jerome Garces during the Rugby World Cup final, and suggestions have been floating in the air that conceding a penalty 40 meters away from a scrum does not deserve three points.


Makazole Mapimpi of South Africa (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

I distinctly remember a match between Wales and England in 2013 where the match was won based primarily on the dominance Wales’ scrum exerted on England, although the match was eventually won by 30-3 and Wales scoring two tries latish in the second half, the scrum penalties and forward dominance by Wales broke down the English resolve during that first half.

No upheaval then, why now?

There is also ample proof that teams win matches off penalties while they were outscored in tries, such as England’s victory over Wales in the 2003 Rugby World Cup in their quarter final match when Wales outscored England by two tries to one.

South Africa lost a Test during the 1997 British and Irish Lions tour by outscoring the Lions by three tries to nil.

We need to embrace union for what it is, a unique sport where the competition for possession in all facets of the game are as important as running with ball in hand.

We need to accept that the points system in place allows teams to win matches in different manners.

There is no need to morph the game into something that will attract those with the attention span of a gnat, there are plenty of sports around that will provide you with the snack you would buy at the drive through.


When it comes to satisfying all your taste buds and savour the complexity of a gourmet meal, then sit back and enjoy a game of rugby union.

I am but an amateur statistician and accept no responsibility for those injured in reading these stats, I did some research to see whether the attack over defense have changed significantly over nine Rugby World Cups.

Number of tries scored during the knock out phases and finals by all teams involved
Average tries per tournament 30
1987 – 41 tries
1991 – 21 tries
1995 – 32 tries
1999 – 28 tries
2003 – 30 tries
2007 – 25 tries
2011 – 20 tries
2015 – 40 tries
2019 – 36 tries

Tries scored vs conceded by the Champions during knock out phases and final
Average per tournament 7–2
1987 NZ 13 – 2
1991 OZ 6 – 1
1995 SA 7 – 2
1999 OZ 5 – 0
2003 ENG 2 – 5
2007 SA 9 – 3
2011 NZ 4 – 2
2015 NZ 14 – 3
2019 SA 6 – 1

Penalty goals converted vs conceded by the Champions during knock out phases and final
Average 11 – 7
1987 NZ 11 – 2
1991 OZ 5 – 7
1995 SA 9 – 8
1999 OZ 16 -13
2003 ENG 15 – 4
2007 SA 10 – 6
2011 NZ 12 – 3
2015 NZ 6 – 9
2019 SA 13 – 8

Drop goals converted and conceded by the Champions during the knock out phases and final
1987 NZ 1 – 0
1991 OZ 0 – 1
1995 SA 2 – 1
1999 OZ 1 – 1
2003 ENG 5 – 0
2007 SA 0 – 0
2011 NZ 1 – 1
2015 NZ 2 – 0
2019 SA 0 – 0

The 1987 and 2015 All Blacks were the two most dominant teams and World Cup winners in the history of the RWC, whereas the statistics suggest during 2011 New Zealand did not have it their own way and had to resort to scoring by any means possible.

Every RWC winning team had a superior defensive record scoring more tries than conceding, apart from the 2003 Champions England.

England's Jonny Wilkinson takes a penalty shot at goal

England’s Jonny Wilkinson (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File)

Only the 1991 Champions Australia and the 2015 Champions New Zealand kicked fewer penalty goals than they conceded, all the other champions used penalty goals as a method to score a good percentage of their points.

My point is this, rugby union is a game whereby you compete for possession like in no other game, you have a myriad ways to score points. Due to the complexity of the game, every coach will use their bench selections to what adds to the strengths of their team, they will employ a game plan that suits the strengths of their team, every match will be planned depending on the opposition, granted some games might be seen as boring, but let’s be honest, they aren’t in the majority.

Union is a game of chess, planned by the coach, and executed by 23 gifted athletes.

Leave my game alone, if you want to be royally entertained and don’t get the nuances and complexities of rugby union, go watch a movie.