This is the very first article I’ve written without the assistance of my esteemed G&GR colleagues. Whether you like it or not here’s an opinion piece on our game and how I see certain aspects of it, based on a very brief comment I made a while back. But first some ancient and I do mean ancient history. I played in the 70s and 80s back in Soap Dodger land. We were a famous old club blessed with a succession of great coaches. Officially trained twice a week but if you wanted to progress to the top level you were expected to add in extra sessions in the gym or on the roads, which we did. Even with the relatively lightweight pack we had, a focus on technique and superior fitness saw us through to wins on more than one occasion. It was also games within games. The forwards had the own battles at scrum, line out, ruck and maul. These contact areas bore no resemblance to modern counterparts. The backs were allowed to play unencumbered by lumbering forwards getting in their way. It was a genuine contest between attack and defence. They had their own moves off set play but mostly played heads up, off the cuff rugby. The game flowed.
Since those heady days, my oh my how the game has changed. A gradual process inevitably leading to professionalism but has it been a change for the better. Certainly there have been benefits not least in providing financial security for the player but at what cost. Instead of teams and players with identity and character we have a game that is fast becoming homogenous.
Sadly I feel that enjoyment is being strangled out of our game. Leaving aside the issue of officiating, over use of the TMOs, water breaks, etc, etc. I’m finding games becoming increasingly difficult to watch but being a rugby tragic you’ll find me glued to the tv set come rugby season.
I recall, a good few years back now, watching a game between the Brumbies and the Sharks in Canberra. They were 1 and 2 on the ladder and at the time were lauded for their running game. Both teams were so afraid to lose the match, which should have been a classic, but turned into a game of aerial ping pong. By the end of the game the stats showed that both teams had kicked over 40 times each. The final score, who cares it was bat shit boring. A trend had been set. Teams are becoming so afraid of losing that their first priority is to defend. Their best means of attack is to kick in the hope of applying pressure and force an error. Attack the best form of defence, no chance.
Now I know we’ve all had these moments when you’re watching your favourite team on the tv and you feel so frustrated that you feel like picking up the cat, dog or convenient heavy object but not your beer stein and just hurling it at the screen with suitable expletives. So let’s just look at a few areas of play that make me want to participate in said object hurling.
As usual it starts up front with the scrum. Let’s start by putting the bloody ball in straight not at the second row’s feet. As Nutta will willingly testify, front rows will always be front rows. As masters of the dark arts they confuse the onlooker, namely the referee, as to who is actually attempting to milk that penalty. My very simple solution. If they want to act like children being responsible for reset after reset by their antics then treat them as such by sending both front rows for a spell on the naughty bench – after all there are 6 of them – and bring on a new set.
As has oft been said on these hallowed pages the breakdown is a joke with both sides offending with impunity. The attempted crackdown that sort of started a few seasons back seemed to come to a halt and although the recent RWC saw some positive moves, more needs to be done. Come on refs, injudicious use of the cheese would sort this out. Officiate to the letter of the law as a New Year’s resolution.
The maul, which used to be a genuine contest for possession is rarely seen, replaced by a moving slug which can only be stopped illegally. A 20m trundle may float some boats but not mine. What can be done to prevent this eyesore?
As an ex-lock of tender years the line out was great fun. Jumping with the outside arm while elbowing you opposite number was a given, along with other shenanigans. All that changed with lifting being legalised. We now have a dance with players moving backwards and forwards waving their arms. FFS stop it. It has reached its nadir with the non contested line out with defending forwards setting up to prevent the driving slug and the attacking pack moving to set up said slug before the ball has left the hooker’s hands – double banking, not us sir.
And as for the the caterpillar – ban the f#@$&r.
Now let’s talk about the backs. Well that was a short conversation but let’s just say they’re surplus to requirements.
Gone are the days of the saying forwards win the match and the backs determine by how much. The driving line out maul 5m out is the go to, with try scoring hookers! However, I digress. I long for the day when we see a genuine contest between opposing backlines. Now we are stuck with a defence line of backs and forwards strung out across the pitch like oversized sausages waiting for the arrival of pods of players intent on inflicting GBH on the opposition. On the rare occasion the backs do get space there’s inevitably a couple of their teammates in front of the passer and receiver creating an obstruction – penalty sir, no chance. The height of ingenuity now seems to be the cross field kick to a 6ft 5” winger against a vertically challenged opponent. Mind you this mind blowing tactic is usually on the back of a penalty so it’s worth a literal punt – cynic moi?
I had intended to title this piece Back to the Future but I know that going back to the good old days will never happen. Our game has moved on but at the moment I’m afraid that we are currently stuck with a stodgy mess both on and off the field as recent events have clearly shown. It’s not just here but happening worldwide. We must look ahead and with this in mind my fellow GAGGERlanders think carefully between drinks and even though you know they will never happen, come up with three suggestions on how the game could be improved, without making major law changes. Doing away with scrum halves, weird hairstyles and the Tahs doesn’t count.
PS in spite of my negativity union is the only ball sport I’ve played and the only ball sport I’ve watched and will continue as such until I’m stuck in a pine box and burnt. I hope the other place has STAN.