Whisper it under your breath if you’re around a rugby player, in fact it’s probably best not to bring it up. But, with all the kicking, scrumming and mauling that dominates the current game is rugby just plain boring these days? It’s a big debate creeping up on the sport in a year when the Rugby World Cup comes to these shores. New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is the highest profile critic of the game where people say that there is simply too much kicking and not enough tries. But I think it’s deeper than that, the aim of this World Cup is to bring more players, supporters and volunteers into the game, but is this possible with a game riddled with technicalities and unintelligible rules.
It’s easy as a rugby fan to just brush away any criticisms. There will always be props raving about the immense beauty of an advancing scrum, beleaguered ex-fly halves to analyse the kicking contest and swatches of back rowers to pick apart the break-down battle. But most people don’t watch the sport for this in depth analysis. They want to see tries, running rugby, a bit of flair and attacking prowess.
Take scrums for example. If you are simply a casual fan then it’s just a way of restarting the game. You don’t care if the prop bound on the arm, is boring in, whether the scrum half fed the ball straight in or the back line was five metres back. You just want to see rugby. The obsession with areas of the game like this will simply serve to hold the game back in the eyes of the general public. And yes it hurts to say it as a rugby fan but if we want to bring thousands to the game we have to get over our obsession with the technicalities of the sport.
The negativity in the game also extends to how the sport is played. Much criticism is aimed at Saracens who will scrum you and maul you and smash you into a pulp before knocking kicks over to win the game. Indeed, it’s a smart plan and when a kick is three points a try five it’s just easier to design a team to win like this than scoring lots of tries. Yes anorak’s love to see this ‘game management’ and smart play but it’s not going to lead anywhere; it just leaves the game to be played in an unremarkable way. Let’s face it, you’d rather see a team run it from their own 22 and throw double miss passes and offloads out of the back of their hands to flying wingers who are beating men with fantastic footwork.
So there’s the problem. But everyone knows that just nobody is willing to change it. Anoraks like me will always be averse to change, but if rugby wants to find a global appeal, then unfortunately it really has to. Why not just start with some simple ones? Free kicks instead of penalties at scrums awarded regularly will speed the game up. Why not reduce the value of penalties and increase that of tries and conversions? Give more support to attacking teams by allowing them to bridge over the ruck as well as penalising defending teams more often. The game doesn’t have to have a radical overhaul, just incremental changes. And who knows, it may actually improve it.
Photo credit: Kafuffle