I thought if the virus doesn’t get me, then the Unquenchables (Box Hill Rugby Club’s Masters) Annual Dinner definitely will. This year was my second appearance, and I think they invited me back to try and finish the job. I was grateful for the invite.
From the discussions that flowed deep into the night, it’s clear rugby needs to evolve if we want to attract and even retain a love of the game.
Athletes are bigger now. More athletic. And the analysis systems available to us are more pervasive than they have been in the past. As a result, space on the field has become limited and defence is winning.
Eddie Jones’ England are the best team in the world right now. And I admire what Eddie has built. But they kicked 68 times in the last two Tests and made 201 tackles (versus 76) to easily beat Ireland. I know that not everyone – particularly those new to the game – are able to appreciate the skill and expertise needed to do what England do so well.
But Eddie is definitely no fool and he’s playing to the laws of the game, and winning. It’s not just England. More successful teams kick more – that’s just a statistical fact.
But to keep the spirit of the Unquenchables alive, maybe the laws need some refreshing.
Here are three areas that may be worth thinking about – all with a view to increasing ball in play and encouraging a contest:
1. Limit box kicking
I’ve heard this suggested a few times. If we police the existing law that the ball should be played within five seconds from a ruck, we would stop scrumhalves slowing the ball down to set the perfect platform for their box kick (commonly called the caterpillar).
When they do kick, could the TV cut to an end-on angle (much like modern NFL Xbox games) to show viewers the spaces being targeted behind the defensive line?
In the Varsity Cup (South Africa) they allowed the receiving team to mark the ball anywhere on the field and play-on immediately with a free-kick advantage.
2. Limit scrum resets
The scrum contest is unique to our sport – and needs to be protected. It is why rugby is one of the few games that caters for all shapes and sizes.
But picture this: players have a limited amount of time to get to the mark of the scrum and be ready to set. If the scrum collapses and the referee can’t tell who is at fault, a free kick is awarded to the attacking team, but they cannot elect to pack another scrum. If there has been an infringement, the referee should award a penalty (as they do now).
Hopefully this means that dominant scrums are still rewarded.
3. Introduce ‘captains call’ TMO referrals
What if the TMO could only be requested by the captain for an incident at the end of the activity cycle (whistle to whistle), and the referee cannot ask for the TMO themselves?
Each captain has one challenge available per half. If it’s upheld, they get to keep the challenge. Think cricket.
When in doubt, the referee should always favour the attacking team.
Maybe you agree that our laws should be updated and refreshed. Maybe you don’t. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. Neither the debate, nor the Unquenchables, look like they’re going anywhere soon.