We need more action to make this code the big attraction
Hopefully we see less of the ref blowing his whistle this year. Illustration: michaelmucci.com
Looking at rugby as an entertainment industry, it cannot be complacent about the threat posed by Australia's other winter sports.
In some sense, we in rugby shouldn't have to worry about what the others are doing. We have a very specific product for a unique market. That market is ever expanding but embracing newcomers is needed to grow the game. Yet are we still sitting back and just rolling with the punches? I am talking about the amount of wasted time in each match. How can we get more action into each 80-minute match?
I have a few ideas to share with you.
It seems to go on all around the park from scrum time to kicking goals. Just last fortnight in the Six Nations game between Ireland and England, a scrum was called at 73 minutes and the ball was finally delivered at 78 minutes. Some may call this strategic. I say bent-arm penalty. Get the game going again. Perhaps the time keeper in the stand has to be the one that dictates when the clock should be stopped. Kicks for touch, the walk to the line out, the reset of the scrum, the attempt at goal. Periods where minutes could be added. I think there has to be some commonsense around the scrum time. Time-wasting around scrum time is fast becoming the bane of rugby. The new calls have made some difference.
So what's the smartest thing to do regarding scrum resets? I am an advocate of safety first, this has to be paramount, but time-wasting goes hand in hand with the constant resets. I am sure if you asked the players what they wanted, the response would be a clean scrum. I want a contest in this area. I think it is fantastic to watch. The tactics to out-manoeuvre the opposition, to get the right side up to allow for better ball for the halfback is great to watch, but if the scrum goes down - and how many times have we seen the ball at the back of the scrum only to be reset - perhaps this is where the referee could intervene and make a judgment call. If there is no threat to safety and the ball is sitting at the No.8's feet, let it play. Perhaps a call of ''no push'' after the collapse could allow the ball to get out. I would suspect no one in their right mind would push after the scrum went down anyhow.
I was recently at a school rugby camp, and there were three scrums reset in the game they were playing. I was standing on the touchline and the winger cried out, ''We're not playing Super Rugby.'' My initial thought was, that's a nice little quip … for a winger and then it dawned upon me, is this what the public are taking away from our game? An area to improve.
Another area of wasted time is one of the skills that I used, the goal kick. You can't tell me the kick has got so complicated that the rigmarole before kicks these days will make the ball fly any better than just stepping up and hitting the pill.
I completely understand penalties are so important and have a major impact on games, from my point of view turning five points into seven is more important and yes there has to be an element of concentration, yet all the trimmings that come with the kick these days could be culled.
I used to take about 22 seconds to kick the ball from when I first set it up on the tee. Dan Carter about the same. Looking back now, perhaps that was too long. Standing there on your lonesome, your mind can start to play tricks on you, even the best of them get some self doubt by taking too long. So much for all the goings-on before the ball. Reduce the time to 30 seconds or stop the clock.
Finally, the breakdown again is an issue for me, especially coming into a heavily anticipated Lions series. What is needed is a fast-paced game where both teams have the ability to play the ball. That means getting rid of the ball around the ruck. I mentioned last year how the No.7s in world rugby are becoming so good that it halts the continuity of the game. Well, this year there have been changes to the ruck area again and those changes left those players smiling at the referees last week, implying ''come on I did nothing different to the ruck before but you pinged me for that one''. The refs no doubt have a tough one getting this right. Good luck there.
What do you think? Any other suggestions you can come up with? Let's hear them.