It’s been a big week in rugby union, even without any actual games being played.
Changes to the Rugby Australia board, the likelihood of a Trans-Tasman competition ever increasing, and Japan reportedly being promoted to a tier-one nation all hit the headlines. So it’s no surprise that when the Aussie Super Rugby coaches met to discuss rule changes, you probably didn’t hear about it.
The Australian reported that the four Aussie Super Rugby coaches linked up to find solutions to rugby’s on-field issues. Let’s weigh up their ideas.
Firstly, they identified time-wasting, particularly at scrums. This is the obvious one, but for now let’s take the emphasis away from the laws and focus on the players. I’ll steal a quote from Macklemore – “No law’s gonna change us, we have to change us”.
No rule declares that players must take 45 to 60 seconds to even pack the scrum the first time, let alone collapse it multiple times. In decent conditions, if both packs had incentive to keep the scrum up, what exactly would collapse it?
But players should take more responsibility in this area. However, I understand why they don’t.
It’s all well and good to talk about running rugby and ball in, ball out in exhibition games, but when points are on the line, players prioritising winning over entertaining is to be expected.
Want to run it in your own 22? Cool, clearing would be more effective. Scrum fed and won quickly? Nah, wind down the last four minutes with resets, so you can kick it out and win.
So rule tweaks it must be. Let’s address the Super Rugby coaches’ ideas.
Getting rid of marks
This is fair, not that marks happen often outside of Europe, but there’s no need for the rule. Why can’t a player in the 22 just, you know, catch and kick or pass or run the ball? Actually play rugby.
A TMO review per half, per team, when they concede a try
I’m not a fan of this, but given the team has already conceded a try, it’s not like they’ll just be buying a cheap breather. My worry is that we’ll see teams just throw away their review in the hope that there might be a slight infringement in the play.
Held up in-goal leads to a goal-line drop out, not a five-metre attacking scrum
In before the purists accuse us of trying to turn the game into rugby league, that the team who successfully stopped a player over the line from grounding the ball now has to defend a five-metre scrum always struck me as weird. I can also appreciate that this will lead to fewer scrums (more on that later).
Reducing the number of substitutes to increase player fatigue
Player fatigue already played a pretty big part in rugby, plus increasing that workload wouldn’t ease any health and safety concerns.
A second referee to control the offside line
This is a good idea. When the NRL first introduced the assistant ref there were teething issues, but ultimately less is missed. Rugby’s offside line needs a lot more policing, and this is probably the best way to do it.
The biggest issue is scrums. In the week before last year’s Super Rugby final, seven teams had gone the entire year without losing a scrum feed, while all the rest completed at more than 95 per cent. Imagine packing 20 scrums, which would take close to half a game, and if you lose even one of them you’re doing poorly.
It’s not about axing scrums, just de-emphasising them. The goal-line drop out is a good place to start. How about moving five-metre attacking scrums back to ten out, making it near impossible to score a pushover try.
After a knock-on where advantage can’t be played, instead of going immediately to a scrum, award a free kick so the attacking team can tap or kick, as well as having the scrum option.
Same applies when a general play kick goes dead in goal. Under current laws, there could be a scrum from the spot of the kicker. Award a free kick from this same spot.
This will crack down on scrums, while still keeping them a part of the game, and the fewer scrums, the less time wasted packing them.