Rugby: Not for dummies anymore
You know the stereotype. Rugby players are dumb. They are the fat overweight props that won’t amount to anything in life, and then the fast 100m athletes who become wings, but cannot catch a ball, and then the only smart guy on the field is the flyhalf or scrumhalf who decides where the ball must go. The rest are dumbasses that barely scraped through matric, don’t study at varsity, and spends all their time playing with balls.
Almost as dumb as boxers who get their brains bashed in all day long. Rugby players are just a bit smarter cause they let their bodies take the beating.
Which then would lead one to the conclusion that the dumbest beings on earth surely must be Rugby players who box…
That may have been true some decades ago. You know, at the time when guys like James Dalton and Johan le Roux were playing. But nowadays, with the law changes getting more and more complicated, it stands to reason that players just can not afford to be dumb anymore. Pick a dumb player, and you get Dean Greyling diving with his elbow into Richie McCaw right in front of the Referee. Pick a dumb player, and you get Werner Kruger packing at tighthead for the Springboks. Pick a dumb player, and you sit with a player in the bin for at least 10 minutes every match.
Players have just started to get the knack of the laws which were introduce since 2009. The roll-away-tackler-and-tackle-assist-and-release-the-ball-all-of-yous laws. They have hardly started getting the rythm of the “crouch-touch-engage” turned into “crouch-touch-pause [pause] [pause] PENALTY!/ engage” scrum calls and then it changed in to “crouch-touch-set as recently as the Springboks’ last tour to Europe/
And then some other laws really get players confused. You may not play the ball from the wrong side. Unless you are the tackles and got up to your feet. And there is not yet a ruck. Some players still struggle to tell the difference between a Ruck and a Tackle ball. God, even some Referee’s struggle to tell the difference!
So, with all of these laws just starting to sink into the brains of Rugby players everywhere, and us thinking that we may finally be able to start seeing the basic things of Rugby on the field again as players get used to sorting out the more complex issues, the IRB has gone and added 11 new laws to be tried this year. I kid you not. ELEVEN NEW LAWS.
As if trying to remember who you are playing over the next 6 months is not enough, players now have to learn 11 new laws, on top of the new laws they had to learn, and did not get right, in the last 36 months.
The learning curve regarding the 2009/10 law variations in Super Rugby is quite evident in the graph below:
One can see the sharp increase in penalties in the 2010 season, levelling out in 2011 as players got used to the new laws, and then starting to decline again in 2012. The impact on the game is that in 2012, almost the same number of tries per match were scored as in before the new laws were introduced, which, ironically, was introduced to make the game more entertaining.
The new set of laws has the same intention. To make the game quicker and more entertaining. As if the mumble jumble game we’ve been exposed to as a result of the previous “new” laws was not quick (and confusing, and ugly) already.
So let’s explore these laws and see what we can expect.
Five seconds at the ruck
When the ball becomes available at a ruck, the referee will call “use it” and the scrumhalf then has five seconds to clear the ball by passing or running it. This will speed up play by not allowing the team in possession to slow it down, and giving the defenders less time to set up their defensive structures and the attackers the opportunity to be more creative.
~ But as we’ve seen, players will rather give away penalties than tries, so expect more penalties from Offside being awarded. Also, it’s not as if the defense will not be expecting the scrumhalf to use the ball, as he will use it on cue of the Ref.
~ How strict the referee will be on those 5 seconds will also be debated in time to come. Very much a technicality which really is not neccessary at this level, but;
~ for those like me who got irritated with Ruan Pienaar not playing the ball when its available, this may bring some relief, and the Springbok backline will be forced to get their arses into gear for a change!
Three-word scrum call
The four-step engagement call has now been shortened in senior rugby to ‘crouch-touch-set’. The word ‘set’ is shorter and quicker to say than ‘engage’ and is expected to produce better timing and adherence by the front rows. The removal of the spoken ‘pause’ does not take away the actual pause, as the two front rows are expected to remain stationary and still before engaging on the ‘set’ call. At amateur age-group levels, additional modifications have been introduced to minimise the risk of the ‘hit’ at engagement and collapsed scrums, and improve the safety of the players.
~Probably a better option which will reduce the time front rows are crouching and pausing, sweat dripping off their foreheads as the pain shoots through their thighs, only to collapse seconds later as the Ref screws up the engage call.
The non-offending team may now take a quick throw-in from anywhere between their corner post and where the lineout would take place.
~ In practice this was already applied anyways. Just as long as you are not in front of where the lineout would have taken place, you can have a quick throw in. The laws relating to who may throw in quickly still applies.
Additional powers for the TMO
The expanded TMO functionality includes identifying foul play, and clear and obvious infringements in the last two phases before a try is scored. All officials (the referee, assistant referees and TMO) are allowed to initiate a referral and make recommendations.
~ I am glad they clarified that it only applies to the “last two phases”. Yes, it can go from tryline to tryline with one phase, but in the end, we all want the right decision to be made. The onus still rests on the Referee to make the call, so do not yet think calls of “cheat” will disappear from the stands and living rooms…
Other modifications include:
• Increasing the squad to 23 players for international matches, with specialist replacements for each of the three front-row positions.
• The reintroduction of a stud on the front of the boot (this was banned in the 1980s). (Given that it is now illegal to Ruck, it does make sense and players were using it anyways without being noticed nowadays.)
• Allowing players to wear GPS units on the field. (this was the case already, wasn’t it?)
• Allowing women to play with long tights. (I almost got happy then realised it wasn’t, Thong lights, unfortunately)
• Stipulating that conversion kicks to be taken within 90 seconds of scoring a try.
• The option of choosing a scrum when the opposition knocks on or throws forward and the ball goes into touch.
~ This one doesn’t make sense to me at all. Why should there be an option? If the ball is knocked forward into touch, a scrum should be awarded. The should not be any option?
• If a team is awarded a penalty or free-kick in the lineout, they have the option of taking the lineout again without having to kick for touch.
~Which is sensible of course as they may opt for the advantage.
What will be the implications of all these laws? More penalties I’m afraid. More rash decisions by dumb scrumhalves. More mumble jumble during rucks. More scrumhalves throwing arms in the air instead of playing the ball. And more frustrated fans jumping up and down when 5 seconds elapsed and the Referee blows 2 seconds too late…
There is a good reason why Rugby players are nowadays required to study something at University. It’s not to make sure they get something behind their names as fall back when their rugby careers are over. It’s to make sure the players have the necessary stuff upstairs to grasp the concepts of the complex new Rugby laws. Because nowadays, who can afford a dumb Rugby player?