The 2021 rugby season is drawing to a close (in the southern hemisphere at least), and despite perpetual mediocrity from Australia, it has been an interesting and enjoyable year.
After the abbreviated competitions in 2020, it was so nice the see such a wide range of matches in locations over the globe. It was also great to see some real rugby minnows get exposure like Portugal and Spain.
But as always, the game could use some refreshment and in particular there are a few rules/regulations that are having too much of an impact on the game. Here are some changes I would like to see in 2022.
1. TMO interventions
The TMO has developed far too much influence on the game recently, in particular with partisan TV producers controlling the vision and cherry picking vision to put on the big screen. It is endlessly irritating to stop play for minor infringements the ref has missed.
If you put every part of the game under intense scrutiny, no doubt there will be infringements left right and centre. Reviewing 50/50 calls in super slow motion with oblique angles does not improve decision making in my opinion and just ruins the flow of a game.
It also undermines the authority of the referee. The TMO should be reserved for foul play, cynical infringements and reviewing point scoring opportunities.
If the on-field referee hasn’t seen it then good on the player for pushing the boundaries. Play on.
2. Defenders knocking kick for touch back in play
I’m not sure quite how this became a rule but this year we have seen quite a few examples of a defender starting 10m out of the field of play then leaping to knock a penalty kick back into the field.
It seems very strange to me that a player out of the field of play can play the ball.
It rewards the defending team way too much and really limits the attacking team using the advantage provided by a penalty.
In order to play the ball, you should have to start in the field of play, simple as that.
3. Deliberate knock down
This is an area where the punishment outweighs the crime in most instances (Beale versus Wales being one of the most glaring examples).
I fully support yellow card/penalty try when a defender slaps the ball away from a clear overlap or near certain try scoring position.
It was a tweak in the adjudication designed to punish cynical play which I fully support. But too often we see either genuine intercept attempts (albeit one-handed) penalised or yellow cards given when it’s not a realistic try scoring opportunity.
The edict this year was supposed to be ‘unless you are clearly onside, then you are offside’.
Not well managed and too many teams pushing the boundary and getting away with it.
5. Halfbacks playing the ball in the ruck
Whether it’s using the feet in a train carriage style ruck or rolling the ball back with your hands, if you are not bound to the ruck, you should not be playing the ball.
As soon as the ball leaves the ground or obviously changes position as a result of the halfbacks actions the ruck should be over.
6. Adjudication of high contact
The game needs to continue the crackdown on high contact, but I’d like to see a minor tweaks here. A little bit more thought needs to be put into the movements of the ball carrier in mitigating the punishments.
An example here was from a Force game where a player was carded making a tackle with his forearm at about nipple height. The ball carrier ducked into the tackle after the defender started his tackling action, with his head moving into the path of the arm. The result was forearm contacting the top surface of the head and a card to the tackler.
With a bit of common sense this should be penalty only.
But in general, all players just need to get their tackle height lower.
Some defence against the dark arts need to be employed to scrum penalties.
Set piece dominance must be rewarded, but there is currently far too much subjectivity and the points/territory gained seems out of keeping with the offence. Also scrum dominance is not a penalty, despite what referees often say.
I’m not sure what the answer is but one small change could be that once the ball is available at the back, play on. The ball has been won, so if the scrum is not going forward the contest is over.
8. 50/22 kicks
I like the thinking here in rewarding aggressive attacking options, but the reward seems too great to me. The territory gain of a good kick is advantage enough as the defence will be under pressure at set piece.
But gaining both territory and possession seems too great a reward and alters the balance between attack and defence. It’s a complicated rule for the viewer and seems to add complexity to an already over-complex game.
It’s hard to cover everything given the size of the rule book, and that is part of the problem. But with a few tweaks we will see more focus on ball in play time and fewer games where the referee seems to decide the result. Bring on season 2022!