The game of rugby needs a serious tweak. With the TMO debate settling, it's time to confront the realities of the sport. The Rugby World Cup, for large portions, was a bore fest. The art of passing the ball into space to outmaneuver defenses seems to be fading. Coaches at the highest level are always going to find the quickest and easiest way to win matches, which means teams now prioritise kicking, scrumming, mauling and defending rather than playing with the ball.
Grass roots coaches and players mimic what happens at the higher levels. We want our coaches and kids to turn on the telly and be inspired by the rugby that is being played. We don’t want to see 10 year old's being coached kick exit strategies or 13 year old's scrumming for penalties. We want our young people to play, play, play.
Here are some stats from the 2023 Rugby World Cup (sourced from Opta).
Ball in play averages less than 34 minutes. The opening match between France and the All Blacks was just 27 (with 77 kicks in open play).
Ball movement – following a ruck, only 1 in 4 times will there be 2 or more consecutive passes. Teams crash and bash around the ruck. South Africa for example, only made 2 or more passes on 17% of their possessions.
The average number of passes per possession was 1.8 compared to 3 in 2019.
Scrums – approximately 1 in 5 scrums ends in a penalty. Teams prioritise scrumming for a penalty over attacking from a scrum. Remember how the England v South Africa game ended?
Kicking – there is an average of 52 kicks per match. The teams that won the quarter finals (South Africa, New Zealand, England and Argentina) kicked the most. England alone kicked 36 times per WC match.
Defence Wins. South Africa averaged 139 tackles per match - the most by any team.
We need to change some of the laws at the highest level. This will be the most impactful way to get change. Here are some outside the box law changes that could bring rugby back from the brink of extinction, without widening the pitch space to 80m (not going to happen in high stadiums), or reducing the team size and letting them hold onto the ball.
Penalty goals are worth 2 points. Reduce from 3 points so teams are more incentivised to score tries.
If a player catches the ball on the full from a kick, they can call ‘mark’ + advance down field 10m. They must tap and go. This will discourage teams to do box kick after box kick and actually attack with the ball. The kicks they use will be grubbers, chips and find grass. The bounce of the ball could go either way.
Free kick - must tap and go - no calling for a scrum.
Tries from rolling mauls are worth 3 points. If a pass is made then it is worth 5. This will lead to more creativity off line-outs.
If the ball is held up over the line, it is a tap restart for the attacking team 5m from the try-line. The goal-line drop outs don’t work and punish attacking teams who get close to scoring.
All scrum infringements are free-kicks. This will stop teams scrumming for penalties and matches won’t be decided by contentious penalties.
Players cannot ‘jackle’ for the ball at rucks (e.g. can’t put their hands on the ball in a ruck). Players aren’t trying to win the ball, but rather win a penalty. To turn the ball over, they will need to counter ruck and take the space. This should lead to more clean turnovers, take the referee out of the game, plus make the breakdown safer. E.g. knee injury to Bongi Mbonambi, Quinn Tupaea.