5 Things to Work on for World Rugby from 2012
It seems like we are always changing things in rugby. Every year brings new variations of the way the game is played and run as the search for a perfect outcome continues.
Some of these changes have done wonders towards making rugby a better game, while others have undoubtedly been a step backwards. At times it feels like change is made simply for the sake of change and it would be better to have left what was already a pretty good product alone.
So often people make suggestions on how to improve the game when in reality they are very similar to the way the game was played in yesteryear. Perhaps this as much as anything shows how sometimes its best not to fix what isn't broken. At the end of the day, though, it comes down to making money, which has seen a drastic overhaul of the way rugby has been played since it went professional in late 1995.
However, there have been some glaring blights on the world game in 2012. While many of the recent changes have left a lot of fans scratching their heads, the following five are issues that need to be addressed to make the world game better in the years ahead.
Get the Pacific Islands More Involved
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Every year the islands of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga are given a handful of games against top opponents. And every year they perform admirably well.
These performances led to claims that they should be given more internationals against better-quality opposition. But nothing is never done about it.
It must be asked why this is the case. Sure it's a money game and the big markets are Europe and the SANZAR unions. But if global expansion is as much of a goal as the IRB talks about, more needs to be done for the Pacific Island nations.
Samoa have shown themselves to be as good as anyone in the world, beating Wales and losing narrowly to a very good French team. A year ago they showed their worth, beating the Wallabies in Australia and were just as good as Wales and South Africa in close losses. They are now ranked seventh in the world but in reality there is an argument they could be ranked as high as No. 3 on current form.
Tonga too have shown themselves to be worthy opponents, beating Scotland and pushing Italy during November. But their win over France at last year's Rugby World Cup remains their biggest statement.
Fiji haven't been as strong of late, but they are a country with a strong rugby history and can be held in the same regard as Samoa and Tonga.
It really is getting to the point where its too hard to ignore them. If Scotland and Italy are worth getting a match against the All Blacks or the Springboks, why not Samoa or Tonga?
Consistency in Officiating
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The consistency in the decisions made by officials both on and off the field has brought much frustration to fans, players and administrators worldwide in 2012.
On the field, many games have literally become lotteries as to who will get the decisions. The breakdowns are the worst part, as the so-called "grey area" makes it hard for referees and players alike to know when a player has rights and when they don't.
Every referee has their own interpretation and that is fine, but that these interpretations are so varied means that who wins a game can largely depend on who is officiating it. Some let the game flow while others are somewhat overly pedantic.
Letting the game flow means not blowing every penalty to the letter of the law, but it certainly makes for a better game and should be the aim in 2013.
Too much whistle in a game leads to contests being dominated by kicking and mistakes as they constantly stop and start. The prime example here being the tryless draw between the All Blacks and the Wallabies, which would rate amongst the most boring Bledisloe Cup tests ever played.
That is not to say it is easy for the referee. Certainly with the pace the game is played at and the number of things going on there are going to be plenty of offences missed. What is frustrating though is the amount of obscure things picked up while other obvious offences are missed.
The officiating off the field hasn't been much better. Inconsistencies have come to be expected in suspensions for foul play, but 2012 took this to a new extent. Many of the suspensions just didn't reflect the act they were given for, whether they were too lengthy or too lenient.
This is a problem that definitely needs addressing in 2013.
Improve Basic Skill Levels
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This is an area where everyone needs work. Passing, catching and running are the three most fundamental skills of rugby, yet they seem to be skills that even the top players are lacking in.
The four home unions were perhaps the worst culprits, playing themselves into prime attacking position but dropping a pass or failing to manipulate numbers effectively would prevent them from scoring.
Italy have shown tremendous improvements over the past few months, but still have a way to go. France meanwhile can be brilliant one minute then awful the next.
South Africa were similar to the home unions, playing themselves into position but seemingly having no idea what to do once the ball got to the backline. Argentina were the same although they looked dangerous at times.
The Australians weren't particularly flash in an area of the game where they traditionally excel. New Zealand, too, were below their usual high standard and while they were clearly light years ahead of the next best team, they too squandered their fair share of chances through dropped balls and the like.
Things such as being able to utilise an overlap, create a weak shoulder and simply catch and pass a ball go a long way towards winning rugby games. They are simple things that are taught to school boys, things that school boys would be expected to be proficient at. But they seem to be lacking even at the top level of the game and need attention.
Improve the Management of Players Workloads
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With professionalism has come greater demand on the players than ever before. More rugby at the top level, that's what sells they say.
Perhaps they may be right. But it also means that we seldom get to see the best players in the world pitting themselves against each other when everyone is fresh.
Whether it be for fatigue at the end of a long season or rust at the start of one, it seems whenever there is an inter-hemisphere match played at least one team is far from full strength. What this means is that the only time in four years that we truly get to see every team in the world play each other at their best is during the World Cup.
It should perhaps be a goal of the IRB to find a window at some stage in the year that everyone can aim at peaking for. The Rugby Championship and Six Nations are great for this, but it would be great for the game if the teams from each could play each other at the strength they are during these competitions.
Some of the top players in 2012 started playing preseason games in mid-January and continued through until the first week of December getting perhaps five or six weeks off in this time. The physicality of the game makes this an incredibly demanding ask and it gets to the point where the body just stops responding.
It's not ideal, but is undoubtedly one of the big negatives of the professional game.
Decrease the Number of Scrum Resets
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If there has been one major blight on rugby in recent years it has been the amount of times it takes to set a scrum. That two teams may have to pack down four or five times to have one successful scrum is killing the game, as it can now take, in the worst cases, up to four minutes for the ball to be cleared.
This slows down the game and makes for a somewhat boring intermission in play. Rugby fans love to point out how slowly American Football moves with the number of stoppages in play making for what they see to be a boring contest. Yet this is precisely the way rugby is heading with scrum resets, and something needs to be done about it.
It isn't an easy problem to fix. However the following two ideas could potentially help the problem.
The speed at which the referee makes his calls at the scrum are undoubtedly an influencing factor. A slow call makes it harder for everyone involved.
The jerseys worn by the players in recent times have also become tighter in an attempt to make them harder to grab onto for defenders. But what this has done is make it that much harder for a player to get a bind during a scrum.
It seems to be little coincidence that since these new jerseys have been brought in scrum resets have increased dramatically. Perhaps bringing back real rugby jerseys could be the answer.