Six Na­tions must recog­nise that a revo­lu­tion is com­ing

The Irish Times - - Sports Weekend - Rugby Matt Wil­liams:

The Six Na­tions unions ap­pear to be un­aware of the rest­less, even rev­o­lu­tion­ary mood that is rum­bling across the rugby world. The fact that World Rugby is us­ing its po­lit­i­cal might to bring about a united global cal­en­dar should sig­nal a huge warn­ing to the Six Na­tions. The war drums out­side of Europe’s old guard are beat­ing loudly. At this stage, the sky is fall­ing in and the crowd scream: ‘They want to change the Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship!’

An aligned world play­ing cal­en­dar is not a plot to kill off the Six Na­tions so put that ar­gu­ment in the waste pa­per bas­ket, where it be­longs.

In rugby’s first revo­lu­tion in 1995, the game be­came part of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. This fact still re­mains un­no­ticed by the vast ma­jor­ity of play­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors in the north. Pro­fes­sional rugby is about en­ter­tain­ment. Com­mu­nity rugby is about par­tic­i­pa­tion and fun.

This pan­demic has forced even the most con­ser­va­tive of rugby minds to re­alise that the busi­ness mod­els for pro­fes­sional rugby cre­ated in 1995 sim­ply will not work in the fu­ture. Rugby must find new rev­enue streams.

To put it sim­ply, rugby as a global sport has to find new mar­kets and en­ter­tain new au­di­ences, es­pe­cially in the Amer­i­cas and Asia. The Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship, the Bledis­loe Cup, Li­ons tours and other great tra­di­tional ri­val­ries are valu­able prod­ucts that must be sold to new au­di­ences.

End­less te­dium

The hard part is mak­ing rugby more ac­ces­si­ble and eas­ier to un­der­stand for these huge mar­kets. This re­quires change, which is not some­thing rugby ex­cels at.

Rugby as a spec­ta­tor sport is cur­rently bur­dened with an overly com­plex set of ever-ex­pand­ing laws that force of­fi­cials to stop the play and the en­ter­tain­ment with end­less penal­ties.

The game has also be­come in­fested with in­fu­ri­at­ingly neg­a­tive rush­ing de­fen­sive sys­tems. This means that run­ning the ball the en­ter­tain­ing part of the game that we can sell and make money out of – has be­come in­creas­ingly rare.

Cur­rently, the game is full of the end­less te­dium of re­peated box kick­ing and three minute scrums that re­sult in a penalty. This penalty is then kicked into touch so a maul can be set up from the li­ne­out. Back­line at­tack from set play has all but van­ished.

Add to this to the many time-wast­ing penalty shots at goal which have re­placed scor­ing tries as the main source of ac­cu­mu­lat­ing points and you can see there has been a fun­da­men­tal swing in the game to­wards time wast­ing and neg­a­tive play.

If World Rugby fails to de­liver an aligned global sea­son and mean­ing­ful changes to the laws of the game, then the seeds to rugby’s sec­ond revo­lu­tion will still have been sown.

Out­side of the Six Na­tions, the de­mand for change is over­whelm­ing.

It is not reck­less youths protest­ing for change, but the wis­dom of for­mer greats. A group of highly re­spected Aus­tralian rugby el­ders, men who have been there and done that, have re­leased a chal­leng­ing se­ries of de­tailed YouTube pre­sen­ta­tions, aptly en­ti­tled Rugby Can Change.

Rod Mc­Queen, the 1999 Wal­laby World Cup win­ning coach, with for­mer Wal­laby greats Greg Cor­nelsen– who scored four tries against New Zealand in New Zealand, (I just had to put that in) – Grand Slam and Bledis­loe Cup win­ning Cap­tain An­drew Slack; aided by the su­perb coach­ing minds

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Rugby as a spec­ta­tor sport is cur­rently bur­dened with an overly com­plex set of ever-ex­pand­ing laws that force of­fi­cials to stop the play and the en­ter­tain­ment with end­less penal­ties

of Barry Ho­nan, Dick Marks and the for­mer Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Sport head coach David Clark, have as­sem­bled a mas­sive body of damming ev­i­dence, based on long term ob­ser­va­tions and sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis.

They also have pro­vided provoca­tive rec­om­men­da­tions on how to bring back run­ning rugby to en­ter­tain and at­tract new au­di­ences.

Slow cas­tra­tion

The pro­duc­tion qual­ity of these pre­sen­ta­tions is not high, but the in­for­ma­tion they pro­vide is pro­vok­ing, shock­ing and stim­u­lat­ing. This is a deep tech­ni­cal plunge into the dras­tic amount of time lost in matches on scrums, mauls and penalty kicks at goal.

They also doc­u­ment the slow cas­tra­tion of back­line at­tack.

Scrums pro­vide the best at­tack­ing plat­form in the game. At the Rugby World Cup of 2003 there were 30 tries scored by back­lines from scrums. By the RWC of 2015 the num­ber had al­most halved to 15.

Teams now scrum­mage for penal­ties. Then kick to the cor­ner. Set up a li­ne­out and maul for a try scored by the hooker. The hor­rid ev­i­dence of this truth is that in to­day’s game a hooker is now 2.5 times more likely to score at try than a cen­tre. The el­ders lament that, in the words of the French coach­ing ge­nius, Pierre Villepreux, “We spend too much time coach­ing backs to be like for­wards. We should be coach­ing for­wards to be like backs.”

These el­ders, wisely call for a re­turn to rugby’s found­ing char­ter. This states that rugby should be played “…in a sport­ing spirit, by car­ry­ing, pass­ing, kick­ing and ground­ing the ball, scor­ing as many points as pos­si­ble.” It is clear in this char­ter that the ob­ject of the game is to score tries. Kick­ing refers to kicks in gen­eral play, not shots at goal. The char­ter, the el­ders note, says noth­ing about push­ing in three minute scrums.

To grow rugby into the hugely lu­cra­tive mar­kets of Amer­ica and Asia is es­sen­tial for the sur­vival of the pro­fes­sional game. If the Six Na­tions think that play­ing rugby in sum­mer is the revo­lu­tion, they are a long way be­hind the curve and out of touch with the re­al­ity of the rest of the rugby world.

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