A recent conference, encouragingly titled “The Shape of the Game,” brought together World Rugby’s elite. This gave a lot of hope that the best experts in rugby would make proposals that are absolutely necessary. However, my hopes were dashed; all that is left is complete dejection and a missed opportunity.
The outcomes of the conference are remarkable more for what is not mentioned than for what is in the news.
Whether at the tackle or the breakdown, not a single word has been said about the dangers of head-high hits, which can result in concussion and dementia. This omission demonstrates the wide and unhealthy divide that exists between unions and World Rugby regarding the serious issues that threaten rugby’s very existence.
Although they were brought together at great expense, the guardians of the game and its future failed to reach a consensus on how to prevent catastrophic injury. So much for the game’s format.
We witness it all repeatedly week after week without a strategy to limit the danger. There is no abatement. Over the past two weekends, you can choose from a variety of extremely unpleasant events. Here is only one. a diving headbutt by Mathieu Acebes, captain of Perpignan, on Jonathan Danty of La Rochelle, who was helpless under a ruck.
A social media apology that Danty accepted was made solely for the purpose of a judicial hearing, so she refused to accept it. Presumably, the conference possessed the authority to eliminate the absurd reductions in sentence (50 percent off for apologizing), resulting in deterrent suspensions but silence once more.
There was also not a whisper about returning the scrum to its intended role of restarting the game rather than producing penalties. Similar to the U19 laws, limiting the forward movement of a scrum to about a meter and requiring that the ball be used once it is available to play may be the solution. Getting the ball away quickly from the scrum would make it easier to referee and reduce the number of penalties and resets in the quest for more ball-in-play time. For the man in the middle, things are often mission impossible.
Instead, teams that physically pound the opposition and deploy massive “bomb squads” as soon as their starters begin to fade will continue to win games.
Three specialist front row replacements were initially permitted for two reasons: avoiding uncontested scrums and safety. However, these noble ideas have been forgotten for a long time and have been completely destroyed by the current use of these substitutes—another serious conference failure that ought to have been addressed.
The non-observance of the scrum straight put-in was also not addressed, so things will continue as they are, ridiculing the game while the authorities, strangely, seem content.
And absolutely nothing regarding the advantage law, which, if implemented appropriately, would substantially reduce the number of penalties. The intention to reduce input from the Television Match Official may be a positive outcome; however, given that referees must be error-free, it is likely to be difficult to reduce their TMO relationship.
The amount of time allotted for goal kicks is one catchy announcement. Shot clocks should be used to time penalties and conversions in tournaments like the Six Nations—90 seconds for the former and 60 seconds for the latter.
We are informed that all of this is a part of “reimagining” the game. But wait a minute; these timings are not new; they have been in the laws for a long time. Also not new is the requirement that scrums form within 30 seconds. Taking a cue from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, these have always been “more honoured in the breach than in the observance,” giving them only the appearance of novelty.