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Rugby’s Groundhog Day: in 30 years not as a lot has modified as we expect | Rugby union

The printed messages may hardly be clearer. “Assist make the sport extra thrilling for gamers and spectators alike,” booms the editorial. “Simplify the foundations to scale back variety of stoppages” and “Enhance consistency of refereeing requirements” are two of many particular proposals from main gamers. “Clamp down on crooked feeds by scrum-halves,” urges another person.

Welcome to the rugby union equal of Groundhog Day. Over the weekend, rummaging round in a cabinet, I stumbled throughout a replica of the Rugby Who’s Who from 30-odd years in the past. Brilliantly curated by my good buddy and press field colleague Alex Spink, the old-school participant opinions he collated must be as up to date as historic Greek. As a substitute sizeable chunks of it learn as in the event that they had been dictated yesterday.

Think about digging up a dusty, long-buried time capsule solely to find little has modified. “Enable gamers to get on with the sport. Too many unnecessary stoppages,” complained Pontypridd’s Dale “The Chief” McIntosh. Up in Scotland, Hawick’s scrum-half Greig Oliver additionally sounded exasperated. “Make the scrum a way of beginning the sport not a way of spoiling it.”

Or how about this from Wales’s Rob Howley. “Much less kicking and extra working.” Or this from the England centre Bryan Barley. “Make sure that abilities are coached in follow quite than focus on a regular basis on health and recreation plans.” Or possibly this from Eire’s Donal Lenihan. “Standardise refereeing interpretations in northern and southern hemisphere.” Ring any bells for anybody?

It simply goes to indicate the sport of rugby union has not progressed fairly so far as folks generally understand. Sure, professionalism has drastically moved the goalposts when it comes to remuneration, physique form and health however in different respects at present’s gamers and their distant predecessors have extra in widespread than they could assume.

Which begs a query: will everybody nonetheless be complaining about the identical previous stuff in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time? That is completely not, by the way in which, a dig at at present’s era of referees, all far fitter and extra painstakingly skilled today. A lot has been written, together with in these pages, about Mathieu Raynal’s late intervention within the Australia v New Zealand Check in Melbourne however that debate is historical past now. What actually issues shouldn’t be one high-profile incident – proper or fallacious – however the more and more obtrusive lack of consistency round time-keeping as a complete.

Wind again final weekend’s Argentina v South Africa recreation, for instance, and watch the Pumas kicker Emiliano Boffelli often going over the permitted 60 seconds for his early kicks at aim. The Avellaneda stadium in Buenos Aires, house of the soccer facet Independiente, regarded nice however what would have improved it much more? Appropriate, a “shot clock” to indicate everybody exactly the place they stood.

Likewise in Melbourne. The primary purpose Brendan Foley didn’t kick the ball to the touch barely earlier was as a result of his Wallaby forwards had been nonetheless huddled collectively behind him. If he had gone forward and missed contact Australia would have been stuffed. However think about, as an alternative, if each side had been in a position to look on the large display screen and see the seconds clearly ticking down? It might have utterly reworked the narrative.

Because it occurs the Pumas v Springboks recreation additionally showcased one other of rugby’s present areas for enchancment: the frequent hole for neutrals between big-match expectation and actuality. The pre-game anthem in Buenos Aires was sufficient to make anybody determined to tug on a pale blue and white jersey and clasp the badge tight. Thereafter, sadly, a lot of the particular recreation was a guidelines of frustration: suffocating defence, hairline penalty selections, extreme TMO interventions and umpteen stoppages.

The atmosphere as Argentina hosted South Africa in Buenos Aires was superb, but so much of the game was then lost to stoppages and delays.
The environment as Argentina hosted South Africa in Buenos Aires was excellent, however a lot of the sport was then misplaced to stoppages and delays. {Photograph}: Gustavo Garello/AP

In different phrases, not one million miles faraway from the early Nineties. It’s fascinating, looking back, to listen to the far-sighted options being supplied by gamers again then. “Award extra factors for a attempt to take emphasis off kicking,” proposed Scotland’s David Sole. Certain sufficient, the next yr in 1992, a strive turned value 5 factors quite than 4. “Abolish conversions,” recommended Doddie Weir. That hasn’t but occurred however how about six factors for a attempt to a one-point conversion, by way of a drop-goal, to chop down on trendy time-wasters.

England’s Simon Halliday had one other good concept. “Kicks at aim to be restricted to foul play and deliberate offside.” His teammate Jeff Probyn was additionally considering forward. “Get contact judges extra concerned within the working of the sport.” Which, given the place we at the moment are, is probably greatest filed beneath the heading “Cautious What You Want For.”

Joking apart, although, the sport merely can’t afford to stay caught in its methods, with each week bringing extra worrying concussion-history testimonies from ex-players going through the spectre of early onset dementia. The times of the game’s directors merely muddling by and trusting within the gamers to bail them out ended some time in the past.

There completely must be a better responsibility of care, probably involving far-reaching legislation modifications. If the participant welfare analysis at the moment being undertaken, not least round deal with top, jackalling and head contact on the breakdown, finally ends up endorsing the 1991 verdicts of Scotland’s Craig Chalmers – “play the sport with out flankers” – and even his teammate Finlay Calder – “good rucking, though it seems to be ferocious, is as secure as something” – then so be it.

One factor, nevertheless, is for certain: rugby will at all times be an intrinsically imperfect sport. Right here’s hoping the ultimate weekend of the Rugby Championship is uplifting and concludes with us all marvelling on the brilliance of the rugby. But when historical past tells us something it’s this: common settlement on precisely what the sport ought to appear like isn’t going to occur.

That is an extract from our weekly rugby union e mail, the Breakdown. To subscribe, simply go to this web page and observe the directions.

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