Rugby Union: 5 Rule Changes to Change the Sport for the Better

Ben AlvesContributor IIJanuary 24, 2012

Rugby Union: 5 Rule Changes to Change the Sport for the Better

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    Rugby has changed a lot since its inception. More rules and regulations have been introduced in order to protect the players and also to make the game more interesting for the fans.

    Compare the last two World Cups, for example. After 2007, new laws were introduced, such as the law that allows quick line-outs thrown backwards to be taken, or the elimination of a number of kickable penalties. After 2009, there were new laws regarding the breakdown, favouring the attacking team and creating more running rugby.

    Some say more changes could be made to make the game more entertaining. Rugby union is losing fans in such places as Australia and New Zealand to rugby league because it is more fast-paced and has less tactical kicking involved. To newer fans of rugby, league may be more appealing because these aspects make it more entertaining to spectators.

    But changing the rules too much for entertainment value runs the risk of turning the game into rugby league, as Bryan Habana once suggested would happen if you continue to lower the amount of breaks in the game. Some changes could still be made, however.

    The main aspect of rugby that could do with a makeover is the officiating. Rugby is a game where the referees do a lot of running, making their job a lot harder.

    This last World Cup was full of refereeing controversies, ranging from seemingly unfair cardings to supposed bias and ineptitude. Therefore, rule changes should be made to help them out. They don't need any more death threats.

    Now, for some my proposed rule changes...

Requiring Confirmation Before Sending Players off

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    Rolland's red carding of Sam Warburton will be remembered as the call that ruined what was supposed to be a battle between two of the world's top European nations.

    He got rid of Wales' captain and arguably their best player 17 minutes into the game, which resulted in a 9-8 victory to France. You can argue that he deserved it, being a dangerously high dump tackle (with what appeared to be a brilliant acting job by Clerc). But many have argued that the fact that he did not even hesitate to pull out the red card ruined the game and showed some possible bias (he is half-French after all).

    Had Rolland at least deliberated with his fellow referees, he could have escaped a lot of controversy.

    Now, I'm not saying the referees should have a full on discussion on whether a player should be carded or not, as that would ruin the game. The referees have headsets and microphones—a quick conference of whether a player should be carded or not would suffice.

    This way, the referee can get a second opinion, making sure that the offense was truly deserving of a card. Furthermore, it could help remove bias, or at least spread the blame.

    Refereeing is a stressful job, and it is much harder for one man to shoulder the blame. If Rolland had done this, then maybe the rugby world could've forgiven him for carding Warburton.

Coach's Challenges

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    This one could be a stretch, because it would mean longer stoppages in the game.

    But in the playoffs, where losses mean exits, they could be useful.

    In the NFL, coaches can challenge certain calls by throwing a red flag onto the field, leading to video review. They only get two per game, unless they are right on both counts in which case they are awarded a third. Rugby could do with maybe one for each coach, to prevent the game from having too many breaks and boring the fans.

    At the moment, TMO's can only check the grounding of the ball if tries are scored. This means that if the referee determines that a try is scored, he does not have to ask the TMO for assistance. It is a pretty limited system and there are many instances where the coaches probably wish they could force the referees to check the TMO themselves.

    Take the South Africa and Wales game for example. James Hook kicked a penalty which, upon postgame video review, appeared to have been between the posts. Wales only lost by one point.

    Had Wales been able to call for a video review, the play could have been reversed and they could've come away with a win. Then again it may not have. Who knows? Either way, this system could help remove some controversy.

More Power for TMO's Regarding Tries

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    All the TMO can decide on when asked for help is whether a try has been grounded properly or if a player stepped out of bounds. They aren't allowed to provide the referee with extra information unless asked. When Johan Meuwesen mentioned the forward pass during this try, there was an uproar in New Zealand because he was only allowed to rule on the grounding.

    TMO's should be able to look into tries a bit more, especially in important games such as knockout games. Of course they can't go too far back, but they should be able to rule on forward passes such as these.

    This is especially important for long distance tries, because referees may not be fast enough to keep up with top level players. Just imagine all the forward pass tries that could've been called back.

Stricter Officiating of Scrums in Closing Minutes

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    A lot of times, when the winning team is awarded a scrum with a few minutes left in the game, fans know that pretty much means game over.

    Constant collapsing of the scrum forces numerous restarts—the clock is still running and the other team loses their opportunity to win the ball back in time.

    It is an unfair practice and referees need to stop them. They need to prevent teams from running off the last five to ten minutes of a game so easily. How they will do so remains the question.

    Maybe they could have the touch judges help them out by checking the other side of the scrum. Or maybe they could enforce stricter penalties on players who are caught collapsing scrums at that point of the game.

    Either way, if they can stop teams from doing this, then the game becomes truly an 80 minute game, and not 70 minutes followed a bunch of collapsed scrums.

Lower the Value of Penalty Kicks

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    It is ridiculous how you can win a game without scoring any points during regular play.

    When the All Blacks lost to the Springboks in Port Elizabeth last year, they did so without even conceding a try. The Springboks kicked 5 penalties and a drop goal to win 18-5.

    While teams should be punished for committing penalties, there should be more reward to scoring during regular play. Penalty kicks give you the same number of points as a drop goal does.

    Drop goals are much harder to perform due to pressure from the opposition. Conversions are also harder because opposing teams are allowed to attempt charge downs (though to little success).

    If the value of penalty kicks is lowered to maybe one or two points, then teams may be encouraged to attempt more tries, as opposed to taking the easy kicks at goal all the time.

    Teams like the Springboks are sure to complain if this ever came to fruition, because they scored a lot of points from Frans Steyn's monster boot kicking penalties from halfway.

    People prefer tries over penalties, so the game will become more entertaining. Furthermore, it lowers the weight of terrible refereeing decisions, because penalties will be less damaging on the scoreboard.

    Feel free to suggest other possible rule changes in the comments.