Adam Hathaway looks at some of the law changes proposed by World Rugby, says they could be on to something and salutes a Welsh warrior.
World Rugby held a Player Welfare Symposium in Paris last week to have a look at, well you guessed it, and came up with some things that could be trialled in the not too distant future.
They came up with something that could look like rugby, but not as we know it, and it might not be the worst thing in the world.
RugbySpy are not the biggest fans of sports organising bodies and they have attracted plenty of flak from this quarter in the past. But these ideas might be a bit different and not the normal hair-brained cobblers put up by the likes of the ECB, RFU and FA and all the rest in the past. So, for once, it is hats off to the blazers and the boffins.
One is a radical law change and the other is plain commonsense.
Amazingly, it looks like someone has actually thought properly about the proposals, you know, actually thought about them before saying something off the top of their head.
One of the most interesting, and most radical, ideas was the introduction of a 50-22 law similar to the 40-20 law in rugby league. The other is the proposed reduction in the number of replacements plus there could even be a move to outlaw the ‘jackal’ which could mean a road back for good old-fashioned rucking and shoe pie.
On the 50-22 law, under World Rugby’s proposal an attacking team would get the throw in at a line out if they have kicked the ball from inside their own half, it bounces in the opposition 22 and then goes into touch.
Think about it. Someone has.
It might work or it might not but it is worth a try and here is why.
How often have you complained that rugby union is just a load of big blokes running at each other, smashing the living daylights out of each other and gain line dominance is king?
Guess what? Players who are around 18 stone bashing into someone else who is 18 stone are going to get injured, players who are 13 stone bashing into players who are 18 stone are going to get even more injured. It is estimated that the average weight of a Test player is two stone more than it was at the 1987 World Cup so something has got to change.
Some modern defences have 14 players strung out with the full-back patrolling the back field. Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny is a master of this, the Frenchman, Yohann Huget, a winger playing out of position at Twickenham, recently less so.
If the team in possession are going to get an attacking line out from a kick in their own half, instead of you getting the ball, what would you do? Your wingers would have to hang back to cover, that reduces the number of players in the main defensive line and that, praise the Lord, gives more space. And that means fewer of the brutal collisions, which hopefully means few concussions and the concussion problem in rugby is not going to go away if things stay as they are.
Some teams have players on high alert for kicks, and as Toby Flood told the i newspaper, Saracens have two men at the back and the scrum-half going in and out of the first wall. Others just fan out like a rugby league team with a solitary man at the back.
Predictably it has divided opinion. Stuart Barnes in The Times didn’t fancy it one bit but we reckon it is worth a go. If doesn’t work out then bin it by all means.
Short of reducing the number of players on the pitch, or widening the playing area which is unpractical at most grounds, it seems a reasonable way of freeing up a bit more space in a cluttered area. Why not give it a crack?
“We have tried to devise laws that have a direct player welfare impact.” said World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper. “That’s the first time we’ve looked at it in that sense. This is really about looking at the shape of the game and working out what can actually have a material effect on some of the outcomes we’re having in the injury rates.”
The World League and all that nonsense has not been World Rugby’s finest hour but they could really be onto something here.
Next is the reduction in the number of replacements which Eddie Jones has been talking about since we first encountered him when he was coach of the Wallabies in the early 2000s.
Fast Eddie can contradict himself sometimes but he is bang on the money on this one and his line has never wavered. Rugby is game of fatigue is his mantra and he has banged on about it non-stop.
Ball in play time has never been higher so players should be getting knackered but if they are only playing for an hour that goes out of the window.
The World Rugby statement said this: “The latest elite level data confirms that ball in play time has increased by 14 per cent since 2014 and is as high as 41 minutes in some competitions and therefore the number of tackles has also increased. This is significant because the tackle accounts for up to 50 per cent of all match injuries and 76 per cent of all concussions, while 73 per cent of tackle concussions occur to the tackler.” This also backs up the argument for the creation of more space on the pitch.
We have always been in the camp that replacements ruin more games of rugby than they enhance. How many times have you seen a game turn to the proverbial once the benches are unleashed?
We have been down this road before but why should a prop, for example, spend 55 minutes grinding down his opposite number only to see him trot off? He has done the hard yards and deserves the chance to grind his rival into the dirt.
And another guess what?
When the fresh replacements come off the bench the collisions increase when they should be reducing with the natural tiring of players and more injuries occur. A personal view is that rugby should revert to no replacements unless they are for injury.
Teams would try and con the referee, with players feigning knocks, but they wouldn’t be able to con him eight times in a game surely and it would also reduce the number of cheap caps that are currently being handed out like confetti.
All World Rugby have to do now is find a competition to trial these in sometime after the World Cup in Japan.
They might lead to a complete shambles but it has got to be worth a look or are we missing something?
The one stone-bonking certainty of last week came up trumps when Alun Wyn Jones was selected as Player of the Six Nations.
We are surprised they even bothered having a vote because the big lock, and Wales captain, was such a stand-out choice.
If the British & Irish Lions were touring this summer Jones would be an absolute no-brainer to skipper them and he would no doubt do just as brilliant job of that as he did leading Wales during the Six Nations.
The bloke is phenomenonal and we would put him alongside Martin Johnson as the greatest British second rows we have seen live. And there have been some pretty good ones.
Jones has played 125 times for Wales and nine Tests for the Lions, 2009, 2013 and 2017. He was on the bench for a couple of them, in 2009 in South Africa, but he wouldn’t be anywhere near the bench nowadays.
We thought he might be heading to the sidelines in the early stages of Wales pulverisation of Ireland in Cardiff last Saturday when he went down injured. He was apparently injured going into the match as well, but no chance, Jones was going nowhere and Ireland were going nowhere.
He also managed to catch the attention of social media when he gave the mascot his tracksuit top before the anthems when the poor lad was freezing.
Then Jones turned in one of his normal turbo-charged performances and cemented himself even more into Welsh folklore.
Is there anything he can’t do? Wales are lucky to have him and we think they know it.