Rugby World - - BOOTCAMP -

A few weeks ago, my cher ami and fel­low leg­end of the game, Ser­gio Parisse, was given a straight red card be­cause some­one got hurt at­tempt­ing to tackle him.

what. The ac­tual. flip. In essence, Parisse was first in the baths be­cause he is too tough, strong and ag­gres­sive – ie, he was sent off for em­body­ing the fun­da­men­tal qual­i­ties of a good player. He got up from the en­su­ing ruck, no doubt ex­pect­ing a cel­e­bra­tory cho­rus of Ric flair whoops from his team-mates, only to be con­fronted by a fran­tic (and clue­less) french ref wav­ing his lit­tle card at him. Ser­gio’s con­fu­sion was writ large over his beau­ti­ful baldy face.

The card was later re­scinded but this is one of the more high-pro­file ex­am­ples of the game hav­ing its go­nads re­moved. There is no doubt that the way we play and watch rugby has been al­tered over the past three or four years by tin­ker­ing from world Rugby. As a spec­ta­tor, we are now con­stantly on the look­out for what has sud­denly be­come foul play, un­nec­es­sary rough­ness or what­ever of­fi­cials call it.

A high tackle, un­til re­cently just an ac­cepted part of a fre­netic, split-sec­ond de­ci­sion sport, is now greeted with pure hor­ror from on­look­ers, as well as the team-mates of the poor vic­tim. The law­mak­ers, in erring way too far on the side of safety, have us all treat­ing any mi­nor er­ror of tech­nique or tim­ing as some egre­gious, pre­med­i­tated crime.

As a player, a flail­ing arm to the chops is the least of my wor­ries as I trun­dle into a wall of de­fend­ers. find­ing a gap at which to aim my head and not get­ting smashed back­wards (thus main­tain­ing my 0.5m per carry av­er­age) are my main con­cerns. In­deed, a high tackle would mean that I had ac­tu­ally put some­one off-bal­ance with some foot­work. I can only dream of such a mo­ment! Get­ting clothes­lined is a mere fan­tasy for me.

Part of me thinks that this stricter in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the laws has ac­tu­ally in­creased the in­stances of high tack­les and catch­ers be­ing taken out in the air. I don’t re­mem­ber so many guys be­ing sent arse-over-tit in the past.

There is now ner­vous­ness and in­de­ci­sive­ness in play­ers that leads them to mist­ime hits. I’m at the stage where I don’t even bother chal­leng­ing in the air, but just let the guy catch the thing and hope to make a tackle.

Still, there is lit­tle ar­gu­ing that some law changes have made the game safer. Ban­ning the neck roll, for in­stance. The crazy thing is that five years ago every break­down coach was specif­i­cally coach­ing this as be­ing prob­a­bly the best clear-out method for get­ting rid of a jack­ler. In pairs, you would re­luc­tantly stoop over the ball at a sim­u­lated ruck and wait for the other guy to run in and at­tempt to rip your head off. what larks!

It was dan­ger­ous, bor­der­line crim­i­nal, but it worked. And, hor­ri­ble as it was, it was just yet an­other as­pect of rugby you ac­cepted in re­turn for money. By com­par­i­son, I once tried teach­ing an am­a­teur side the same tech­nique and they weren’t re­motely in­ter­ested in get­ting in­volved in such silli­ness.

Am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional rugby bear only a pass­ing re­sem­blance to each other, and by all means peo­ple who play for fun should be pro­tected by the laws. But to at­tempt to emas­cu­late the pro­fes­sional game seems para­dox­i­cal to me. You may as well stop box­ers smack­ing each other in the head. The bru­tal­ity is a big part of why peo­ple watch. I’ve had 11 op­er­a­tions in my ca­reer, plus count­less con­cus­sions, and not once did I think to my­self: “They re­ally should change the laws of rugby, it’s all a bit too rough.” Al­though I’ve cer­tainly thought of giv­ing up be­cause the whole en­deav­our is fun­da­men­tally in­sane.

Pro­fes­sional rugby be­com­ing ul­tra phys­i­cal is a horse that has long since bolted. Pros know what they sign up for, they get paid pretty well for do­ing it, so let us get on with beat­ing each other into a pulp and en­joy the spec­ta­cle.

Be­wil­dered Ser­gio Parisse af­ter his red card

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