SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER


Barnes: warning?
By Optimist
August 6 2019

The size of a rugby pitch has remained fairly constant since the game’s inception. The size of players on the other hand …. a study of NZ players showed that between 1947 and 2015 the average height and weight of players increased by 4% and 20% respectively. While the 4% height increase sounds suspiciously modest, it’s still the equivalent of reducing the size of the pitch by 4 metres in length and 3 metres in width.     

More significant though is the increase in player fitness and mobility. This is most apparent when, following a turnover, you see props covering 40-50 metres in a few seconds to rejoin and reform a defensive line. Twenty years ago, if the ball was turned over in your 22 and a three-quarter got their hands on the ball reasonably quickly, none of the 6 front-rowers present would expect to be involved in the game until the next scrum. 

If ‘ball in play’ time is used as a broad indicator of that increase in fitness, then consider this. At the 1991 Rugby World Cup it was just under 25 minutes. It is now closing in on 40 minutes as the norm for elite levels of rugby – an increase of nearly 40%. 

So let’s make a sweeping estimate and say that the playing area is now, effectively, 20% smaller than it used to be. Congestion is dull. Ask any commuter. But in rugby, it is also dangerous. Concussions have increased at an alarming rate – not surprising when bigger, faster, stronger players occupy ever-smaller spaces. There is barely enough time or room to adopt a classic low-tackling position for the majority of the tackles that forwards make these days – even if that was the type of tackle that was encouraged. 

Increasing the dimensions of the rugby pitch isn’t an option. And every hoped-for consequence of a law change is likely to be balanced out by an unintended one. 

So how can rugby congestion be reduced? Here’s one suggestion. Tell referees to stop ‘coaching’ and start penalising. 

An analogy. Anyone ever listened to the ‘bong’ game on Capital Radio? The basic premise is this. The presenter reads out increasing amounts of cash for the player to win. But if the ‘bong’ sounds before you shout ‘stop’ you lose the lot. Get greedy and you lose. Hedge your bets and you reap a modest reward. Rugby union’s a bit like that, except the referee gives the player a nudge and a wink a couple of seconds before the bong. Players get risk-free rewards. Spectators get bored. 

An example. Bath United vs Gloucester United in 8 April 2019 was refereed by Sarah Cox – not the DJ (though that would have been convenient for my radio analogy), but the first ever professional female rugby union referee, and the first female to have refereed a Premiership Rugby match. At one point, Cox awarded a penalty to Bath when a Gloucester player infringed in a maul close to the Bath line. She had been warning him, but as he ran grumpily back he appeared to be complaining that he hadn’t been able to hear her. The obvious implication was that her voice didn’t have the same volume as a male referee. He may have been right in that. But so what? Why do players feel entitled to be told by referees, ‘excuse me, you are infringing the laws of the game, but if you desist reasonably quickly, I won’t penalise you’. 

Rugby union has always cherished and embraced the notion of ‘getting away with what you can’. The laws are so open to interpretation, so individually, idiosyncratically, inconsistently applied, that it’s not even really considered cheating – it’s considered a legitimate part of a player’s ability. 

But why do referees aid and abet players in exploring the absolute outer limits of what they can get away with by warning them, coaching them, communicating even? When a forward finds themself blatantly offside in a ruck or maul, they know they can often get away with it by looking at the referee quizzically and saying ‘am I alright here? No – oh, ok, I’ll make my way slowly round to the back foot then’. 

Why does a referee give the scrum-half a five-second warning to ‘use it’? Why do referees usher players back from offside positions? Why do referees have to tell players – as if they don’t know perfectly well, and as if the ref hasn’t got quite enough to do – that they should either start behind the kicker or allow the receiver at least 10 metres? 

To me, this is for Mini and Junior rugby, where the referee plays an important role in coaching the players, and preparing them for competitive rugby to follow. But why do professional players have to be coached? They don’t. They are simply using it as an opportunity to go up to and marginally across ‘the line’. And it's yet another factor in killing what little time and space there is left on a professional rugby pitch. 

So what might happen if the referee simply started to blow their whistle the instant a player infringed – no warning, no coaching, no tolerance, no ‘line’ for them to creep over? Well, it would be chaos for a while with a penalty every 15 seconds. But once it becomes apparent that you don’t get to be told that the ‘bong’ is about to sound, then rucks would be quicker, the offside line would become something meaningful, line-speed would have to be delayed a little, and the holy grail of space might just open up a bit. 

One of the best pieces of refereeing advice I ever heard was, when confronted by a situation where you’re basically guessing what has just happened and which of any one of about 16 players to penalise, just look at one of them, and say ‘you know what you did’. 

And of course, all of the players did know exactly what they were doing. And what they are doing. And what they’re going to do next time. So don’t warn them. Penalise them, and watch the space open up.

 

pqs: qs:
SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: Comeonmylovers.co.uk (IP Logged)
Date: 06/08/2019 14:08

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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2019:08:19:08:08:29 by CoochieCoo.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: B4thB4ck (IP Logged)
Date: 06/08/2019 16:08

The space on the pitch topic is one I was discussing recently with friends. For me it is spoiling the game for the reasons given.

How about making it a 13 man game with a 7 man scrum? (sorry number 8s). A huge change to the game but simple.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: BathMatt53 (IP Logged)
Date: 06/08/2019 16:58

We are still seeing matches where 80+ points are scored. 13 players is a step too far IMO. Although they have less space there are more skills and fitness on show in both attack and defence. I think that Opti’s point is a good one and reflects on many aspects that are problems in the current game (including injuries as well as excitement).

[Adoptee 19 / 20: The High ball and counter attack meister, Tom Homer]

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: B4thB4ck (IP Logged)
Date: 06/08/2019 18:18

But scaling the pitch to the player would mean more of a focus on covering the ground quicker rather than winning the collision with lots of muscle and resulting injuries.

Players don't look for space as much these days.

Sevens players show the way?

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: P G Tips (IP Logged)
Date: 06/08/2019 18:20

Thanks Opti for this excellent post.

I agree refs should expect players to know the laws and there is no need to "coach" them during play.
I would still keep the "use it" warning though- it is the ref's decision when, in his opinion, the ball has become playable, so to avoid accusations of inconsistency, the ref should still be required to state that it is time to play. Otherwise, totally agree.


PG

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: Bath Supporter Jack (IP Logged)
Date: 06/08/2019 18:42

Very good article

If you think about the "campaigns" against high tackles and jumping competitively for high balls the yellow/red cards have now completely changed behaviour.

Why can't referees, touch judges (or whatever they are now called) and the powers that be in the Think Tank in Twickenham see the problem caused by non implementation of the laws on encroaching offside.

Is it because high tackles and jumping into catching a ball are a health and safety issue designed to protect the player buy they have let the game suffer by not rigorously implementing the laws as they already stand.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: B4thB4ck (IP Logged)
Date: 06/08/2019 19:57

It will be interesting to see how the matches are reffed at the RWC, you want your showpiece event to look good in the shop window.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: P G Tips (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 08:40

Quote:
B4thB4ck
How about making it a 13 man game with a 7 man scrum? (sorry number 8s). A huge change to the game but simple.

Which other position would you remove to make it 13?

PG

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: B4thB4ck (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 09:25

Quote:
P G Tips
Quote:
B4thB4ck
How about making it a 13 man game with a 7 man scrum? (sorry number 8s). A huge change to the game but simple.

Which other position would you remove to make it 13?

PG

Well, as with some of the politics going around at the moment, I hadn't figured out the whole plan!! The article above starts exactly as I was hoping to write one when I watched the women's football world cup. Those games were free flowing and enjoyable partly because the women don't have the speed of the men covering the same sized pitch, players had more time to control the ball and more space to pass into. Hence, thanks for the article.

I would like to say that women's rugby shows the same traits but from what I have seen I am not sure. Maybe it is because they try to play like the men, looking for structure and contact.

Back to the question. I suppose you could work it out by deciding what would definitely be retained:-

Scrum half, fly half, full back are all essentials. You might not need that structure at certain phases of defending or attacking but overall you would. That leaves what we have multiples of - centres and wingers. Maybe we would see a morph between them, players behaving like 13s instead of a Roberts 12 or Wade 11. In that respect I don't like my plan if it meant the sport was no longer a game for all sizes, it is a cliche but I like it.

Of course, it is the same for both teams so whilst there might be a size mismatch, the extra space would allow your little winger to run around the big defender even easier. Sevens still has a mix of sizes.

I guess it would find its own level. One advantage is it would be very easy to trial with no other changes to the laws other than crowd control to stop your club 8 throwing rotten veg from the sidelines in protest.

In summary, it will never happen, but I watch old videos of centres and wingers running freely and think how else can we reverse the trend of muscle, contact and injuries.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: P G Tips (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 09:38

Interesting ideas B4B but I instantly shudder at the suggestion of "13 a side".

Why? Because Union & League are different games but IMHO many of the current ills of Union are derived from trying to make the game look like league.

The result is the closing of space that Opti highlights, the death of dynamic breakdowns, 13 man defensive lines that crowd the pitch and the resultant "human dodgems" where players seek contact instead of space.


PG

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: BathMatt53 (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 10:51

In U13s the 13-a-side means no flankers but an 8.

The top 4 averaged over 27 points scored per game last season. I'm not sure that there is a fundamental problem, just some fine tuning and as such think that Opti's suggestion sounds sensible.

[Adoptee 19 / 20: The High ball and counter attack meister, Tom Homer]

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: B4thB4ck (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 11:03

Yes, I entirely agree with the focus on applying the laws, I was also thinking about the over bulked, collision focussed, injury prone game the pros play now.

If anything the game is heading towards league as it is now when you look at the backs. I am trying to get away from that, reverse the trend. 7s players still look different, they actually run differently.

It is not about points scored but the way the game is played.

Since giving up my Bath season ticket I have noticed a more free flowing game watching at amateur level where the players have not evolved into the gym species we see on TV.

It is not a lost cause but how will it all look in 10 years time?

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: BathMatt53 (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 11:58

Agree with that B4thB4ck, its an enjoyable watch at the lower levels (local clubs, age grade game etc). Probably the same for a lot of sports I guess - perfection of play is certainly awe inspiring, but doesn't always make for a great game - see the snoozefest football champs league final as an example of the peak of the european club game.

[Adoptee 19 / 20: The High ball and counter attack meister, Tom Homer]

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: P G Tips (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 12:08

To be fair Matt, finals are often like that- due to the tension and need to win.
In that particular case, the 2 semi finals were offerings of real excitement and no mean skill.

My issue is that so much of international and club rugby is less attractive to watch than it might be.

Policing of offside would do a lot to help, as would Opti's point about refs just pinging offences instead of colluding with them by constantly telling players how they are doing. I also believe that World Rugby needs to find a way in managing/changing the laws to restore the space the game has lost.

PG

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: shipwrecked (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 12:15

Quote:
Optimist
More significant though is the increase in player fitness and mobility. This is most apparent when, following a turnover, you see props covering 40-50 metres in a few seconds to rejoin and reform a defensive line. Twenty years ago, if the ball was turned over in your 22 and a three-quarter got their hands on the ball reasonably quickly, none of the 6 front-rowers present would expect to be involved in the game until the next scrum.
.

I clearly don't watch enough live rugby! 3 seconds for props to cover 40-50m is faster than Bolt, but I'm being pedantic.

The point is that not only has fitness changed but the Laws as well, back in the olden days those props would have to fight their way off the floor first.

Rucking may or may not be the answer but having forwards waiting on their feet to go to the next breakdown simply reduces space. Get rid of the hand on the shoulder binding and make the forwards in that position actively defend that space so they are committed to that breakdown and not free to rumble of to the next.

https://i.ibb.co/Fz0bC3q/Unknown-1.jpg


Beno Obano Age 21 years, Loosehead prop, 5ft 8ins 18st 12lbs 'Mauls are like Transformers' they change form to become more powerful!

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: B4thB4ck (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 13:00

Just a bit of light entertainment, these guys clearly needed more time in the gym ;-)

[www.bbc.co.uk]

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: Rich. (IP Logged)
Date: 07/08/2019 20:43

Quote:
P G Tips
Interesting ideas B4B but I instantly shudder at the suggestion of "13 a side".
Why? Because Union & League are different games but IMHO many of the current ills of Union are derived from trying to make the game look like league.

The result is the closing of space that Opti highlights, the death of dynamic breakdowns, 13 man defensive lines that crowd the pitch and the resultant "human dodgems" where players seek contact instead of space.


PG

But making it 13 a side doesn't make it more like league at all. In fact it will make it less like league by nature of creating more space so we don't have more and more forward drives in the hope some space &/or quick-enough ball is created, or a feeling that the only option left is to go for a hopeful kick.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: JFPC (IP Logged)
Date: 08/08/2019 00:16

Make it 13 a side and remove the two marquee players and most premiership clubs would be in the black!

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: joethefanatic (IP Logged)
Date: 08/08/2019 01:09

If we're going there, I'd vote for removing both flankers and keeping the 8. It would certainly free up space around the scrum. But then you'd probably just get lighter, faster 8s clogging up the breakdown instead.

More interesting might be to remove the open side flanker and inside centre or both wingers...

But the positions we are talking about are the product of 150 years of evolution. I'm sure that clever coaches could invent hybrid playing positions or formations to plug the gaps in no time at all.

In the end, I'm in the "stop coaching and enforce the Laws we've got" camp. For instance, I'd be perfectly happy for the TMO to adjudicate on offside if the linesmen cant/won't do it. It won't take long for the teams to cotton on, especially if the refs start handing out team yellows for repeat offences. People respond to incentives...

... IMHO, of course.

Now in Honolulu

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: P G Tips (IP Logged)
Date: 08/08/2019 08:03

Quote:
Rich.
But making it 13 a side doesn't make it more like league at all. In fact it will make it less like league by nature of creating more space .

It might seem that way Rich, but tinkering with numbers will be cosmetic unless the shift is radical (say 30%+).

The problems are in 2 areas:

The current Laws - especially breakdown, limit space.

Referees not applying laws as Opti's point shows. Especially offside which is currently pandemic in the game.

Defences will always find a way to squeeze out space in the game, unless the nature of the game forces concentration of players- see Shipwreck's and Joe The Fanatic's points.


PG



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2019:08:08:08:30:20 by P G Tips.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: Omba (IP Logged)
Date: 08/08/2019 14:49

Offside. Offside. Offside. Cricket is looking at all front foot no balls to be policed by the 3rd umpire. So as above if refs and touchies (I know I know) are unable or unwilling to manage it have the TMO simply tell them based on his/her overall view of proceedings.

I also wonder about 14 a side. Just lose a back row, which one up to the team on the day.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: shipwrecked (IP Logged)
Date: 08/08/2019 15:58

Seriously guys what on earth will taking away a player or even two players do? Its the laws that either need to be adhered to or changed.
Take a man out of the scrum now then one more in 5 years time, in 20 years time there will be no scrum left!
The dropped players will become subs and at half time the whole team will be substituted.

Union is 15 a side. (Sm95)

https://i.ibb.co/Fz0bC3q/Unknown-1.jpg


Beno Obano Age 21 years, Loosehead prop, 5ft 8ins 18st 12lbs 'Mauls are like Transformers' they change form to become more powerful!

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: P G Tips (IP Logged)
Date: 08/08/2019 16:12

Well said Shipwrecked.

I note that most people advocating reduction in numbers would get rid of back row players. These are the players spearheading (and frequently effecting) the contest for the ball (outside the set piece) - which is the key differentiator between Union and League.

Without that, you might as well just "takes turns" - as they do in League and American football.


PG



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2019:08:08:16:30:02 by P G Tips.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: Mr Frivolous (IP Logged)
Date: 08/08/2019 22:06

How about turning the pitch round 90 degrees? All that width...

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: shipwrecked (IP Logged)
Date: 08/08/2019 22:48

Quote:
Mr Frivolous
How about turning the pitch round 90 degrees? All that width...

Risk of diving into the Avon whilst scoring, big Joe would make a hell of a splash!

https://i.ibb.co/Fz0bC3q/Unknown-1.jpg


Beno Obano Age 21 years, Loosehead prop, 5ft 8ins 18st 12lbs 'Mauls are like Transformers' they change form to become more powerful!

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: Optimist (IP Logged)
Date: 09/08/2019 08:56

Was kind of hoping the discussion would be about the wisdom or otherwise of discouraging refs from 'coaching' and whether that might have any benefit in terms of making players adhere to existing laws! Classic COML.

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: BathMatt53 (IP Logged)
Date: 09/08/2019 09:02

Speaking of finding space, this little guy could always find it and this ability seems to have transferred pretty well across the pond.

[www.buffalobills.com]

[Adoptee 19 / 20: The High ball and counter attack meister, Tom Homer]

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: shipwrecked (IP Logged)
Date: 09/08/2019 09:34

Quote:
BathMatt53
Speaking of finding space, this little guy could always find it and this ability seems to have transferred pretty well across the pond.
[www.buffalobills.com]

Yes, spotted that Matt, he made it look so easy as well!

https://i.ibb.co/Fz0bC3q/Unknown-1.jpg


Beno Obano Age 21 years, Loosehead prop, 5ft 8ins 18st 12lbs 'Mauls are like Transformers' they change form to become more powerful!

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: P G Tips (IP Logged)
Date: 09/08/2019 11:45

Quote:
Optimist
Was kind of hoping the discussion would be about the wisdom or otherwise of discouraging refs from 'coaching' and whether that might have any benefit in terms of making players adhere to existing laws! Classic COML.

I suspect it would Opti.
But it might require continuing "dialogue" between ref & player.

"Ah, what's that for ref?"
"You're a professional player. Respect the laws."

"What the....?"
"Better still- learn them!"

PG

Re: SPACE: RUGBY’s FINAL FRONTIER
Posted by: Bath Supporter Jack (IP Logged)
Date: 09/08/2019 18:13

Or we get to the point where a bemused Haskell playing for England v Italy asks Roman Poite (sp?) what do they do to cope with Italy's unconventional approach and he tells him he is not his coach.

Personally I would insist that every ball went into the scrum straight......or it is a penalty, any shirt pulling or obstruction is a yellow card, any offsides immediate penalty and same player three times immediate yellow card.

I would do something (I don't know what) to stop the dreadful caterpillar at the back of a ruck to protect the scrumhalf.

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