For the love of it!

Random toughts of a Sports Lover…

What has become of Rugby?

The other day I was surprised when I stumbled upon the IRB’s Playing Charter, describing the principles of the game and the laws. Reading it I fealt a sense of nostalgia, remembering the game I used to play and how I used to play it. How we were coached, and how you always, after the game, could sit down for a beer with the guy whose nose you just rubbed into the mud.

Then some sort of sense of loss hit me. Since the turn of the game into the pro era, it seems these principles have been pushed into the background more and more, and its become more a question of winning at all cost, than playing the game within the principles of the playing charter.

The playing charter can be found here, and I wish to explore some of the principles around which the game we all love was built, and survived for almost 200 years now.

Principles of the game

 

Conduct

It is perfectly acceptable, for example, to be seen to be exerting extreme physical pressure on an opponent in an attempt to gain possession of the ball, but not wilfully or maliciously to inflict injury.

Spirit and object

The object of the Game is that two teams, each of fifteen players, observing fair play, according to the Laws and in a sporting spirit should, by carrying, passing, kicking and grounding the ball, score as many points as possible.

It is through discipline, control and mutual respect that the Spirit of the Game flourishes and, in the context of a Game as physically challenging as Rugby, these are the qualities which forge the fellowship and sense of fair play so essential to the Game’s ongoing success and survival.

Picture proof Richie McCaw’s a serial offender

Object

The wide variation of skills and physical requirements needed for the Game mean that there is an opportunity for individuals of every shape, size and ability to participate at all levels.

 

Yesterday

Prop and wing

Today

Prop and wing (Middle)

Joe Rokocoko (L-R) Ali Williams, Joe Rokocoko, Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu model the new home and away strip during the unveiling of the New Zealand All Blacks and Silver Ferns kit at the Maritime Museum on May 4, 2009 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Hannah Johnston/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ali Williams;Joe Rokocoko;Tony Woodcock;Keven Mealamu

 

Contest and Continuity

The contest for possession of the ball is one of Rugby’s key features. These contests occur throughout the Game and in a number of different forms:

• in contact
• in general play
• when play is re-started at scrums, lineouts and kick-offs.

The contests are balanced in such a way as to reward superior skill displayed in the preceding action. For example, a team forced to kick for touch because of its inability to maintain the play, is denied the throw-in to the lineout. Similarly, the team knocking the ball on or passing the ball forward is denied the throw-in at the subsequent scrum. The advantage then must always lie with the team throwing the ball in, although, here again, it is important that these areas of play can be fairly contested

Well, just go watch the Sharks vs Chiefs game as an example where the fair contest law at scrum time is totally ignored. And then I quote the esteemed Andre Watson: “…should referees enforce this at ALL levels of rugby, then we might see more tight head ball won at scrum time. As stated above in an earlier question, it is not done for several reasons. The law is clear and not strictly applied. The difference between the throw in at a line out as opposed to the scrum is that in a line out there is a contest whereas in a scrum there is not at the top level as the teams prefer to turn the ball over from defence rather than a tight head. I do not necessarily agree with this but it is driven hard by team coaches. Others argue that team just made an error and the non-offending team should ave the advantage.”

Clearly times have changed and looking at the principles of the game, I am seeing that it is not about fair play and playing according to the laws anymore, its about seeing how far you can break the laws without getting caught, and playing according to the referee.

It’s not really a game for all shapes and sizes anymore. With the fair contest at scrums now a thing of the past, big solid props are a thing of the past and instead you get quick and mobile props to just hold his end of the scrum, while the scrumhalf puts the ball under the 8th man’s feet. You don’t get small and quick wings anymore (think Brent Russel, Breytie and even Aplon is deemed too small by some) but we get huge men with legs as thick as tree trunks and bigger than the props who can steamroller the opposition.

Contest and continuity is a thing of the past. The tackler has to perform a sequence of actions before he can contest the ball, the scrum feeds are allowed to go skew, and the attacking team are generally favoured by 50/50 calls. In the past there was no 50/50 calls. We have stoppages in play every 3 or 4 minutes. Play will stop when a prop pushes his hand on the ground to steady the scrum, but play goes on when two players are knocked unconscious in the middle of play.

Either the IRB needs to start steering rugby union back to these principles, or they should change them to what is nowadays more the “walk” than this Playing Charter “Talk”.

But in conclusion, the Charter tells us:

Rugby is valued as a sport for men and women, boys and girls. It builds teamwork, understanding, co-operation and respect for fellow athletes. Its cornerstones are, as they always have been: the pleasure of participating; the courage and skill which the Game demands; the love of a team sport that enriches the lives of all involved; and the lifelong friendships forged through a shared interest in the Game.

It is because of, not despite, Rugby’s intensely physical and athletic characteristics that such great camaraderie exists before and after matches. The long standing tradition of players from competing teams enjoying each other’s company away from the pitch and in a social context, remains at the very core of the Game.

Rugby has fully embraced the professional era, but has retained the ethos and traditions of the recreational Game. In an age in which many traditional sporting qualities are being diluted or even challenged, Rugby is rightly proud of its ability to retain high standards of sportsmanship, ethical behaviour and fair play. It is hoped that this Charter will help reinforce those cherished values.

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