322. Solving Some Of Rugby Union’s Problems. A View From An Elderly Fan.

My blogsite is listed as being “Reflections on life in general and on healing in particular.” But this is a little different from usual in that I am writing about sport and about using  preventative measures to ensure more healing takes place in sport.

Does Rugby Union have a problem? Yes, it has one that comes from their attempt to make the game safer for its players. But perhaps inadvertently it has made the situation worse. As I was watching the second Bledisloe test between New Zealand and Australia being played in Perth recently I was saddened when one of the All Black {NZ} players received a red card and was sent off for an alleged high tackle. It meant that the remainder of the game boiled down to a contest between 15 and 14 players. That is never fair when the contest is between some of the toughest and the most highly skilled players on the planet.

I saw two problems that needed to be addressed.

The First Problem Was The One To Do With Crowd Support. [Duty Of Care For The Supporters.]

As an Australian rugby fan I don’t always feel sorry for New Zealand teams when they lose. [Mind you, they hardly ever do, such is the depth of their Rugby in New Zealand and the broad support their All Blacks team (and provincial teams) receive throughout the nation.] But on this occasion I felt disappointed for the hundreds of New Zealanders had travelled all the way to  Perth to support their beloved national team but just before half time, the game was virtually over, as one of their players was ordered from the field. Only a very determined All Blacks outfit kept the score to a “respectable” level.

I thought of similar games when players were sent off for ten minute periods for yellow card offences, and for the rest of the game for more serious red card offences. Games in which this happens lose their purpose and meaning. The purpose of a test match between two nations is to have a competition where the best players of each nation seek to have a victory over the same number of players of the other nation by using superior skill-sets, better kicking, attacking and defending skills and often a more clever use of power.

The fans are best served by having full number of players on the field throughout the match. Otherwise it becomes an uneven and ultimately disappointing contest for the fans. If these send-offs are to continue to happen, then the support base for the game could seriously diminish. It could ultimately result in a loss of interest for young people in playing the game, and crippling financial losses as well.

The Second Problem Has To Deal With The Safety Of The Players. [Duty Of Care For The Players.]

Teams are chosen to represent the best team to overcome and defeat the opposition. That means there must be an equal number of players on the field at all times. Not only that but the safety of the players must be paramount. That is why in world Rugby there has been a determined attempt to prevent or minimise head injuries of attacking players in tackles made by defending players. There are in place difficult criteria that seek to determine whether the tackle was lawful or unlawful and also whether the alleged illegal tackle was intentional or not. Those details are virtually impossible to ascertain in the moments following the tackle. And how can you determine the intention of any tackler anyway? There must be a better way.

Here are some of my suggestions to help save Rugby as a sporting and safer spectacle.

A]. Intention cannot be proven. So scrap that part of the equation in determining the penalty for a perceived illegal tackle during a game. Consider these alternatives!

When a tackler makes what appears to be a shoulder charge and/or contact with the head [or above the shoulders] of the ballcarrier, then the following procedures should be put in place.

  • Both the tackler and the person tackled be forced to leave the field of play and the latter be examined for any symptoms of head injury. Reserves are brought on immediately to replace these 2 players to maintain a 15 a side contest.
  • If the tackled player is deemed to be free of any head injury and is medically allowed to return to the field of play then that can happen. However the alleged illegal tackler has to remain on the reserve bench and can only be used as the final replacement later in the game if that is necessary.
  • If the person who was tackled is unable to return to the field of play because a head injury is deemed to have occurred, then the tackler can play no further part in the game.
  • Reviews of the incident can be assessed more seriously and more leisurely following the game and any further penalties can be brought to bear on the alleged illegal tackler.

B]. Advantages of the above process

  1. It maintains an even contest between two 15 a side teams for the entire match.
  2. It avoids the danger that come from having undermanned teams physically putting themselves at risk in seeking to overcome their deficit in player strength and numbers.
  3. It avoids the needless stoppages in play as endless replays of such incidents are played on the ground big screens. Fans come to see action football, not several replays of the same incident as the players cool down waiting for some decision to be made as to the legality or otherwise of a tackle.
  4. It avoids the increasing anger of supporters when they begin to realise the severity and danger of a disputed tackle after watching several replays.
  5. It obviates the need to form a fair judgment during the duration of a match, on the intentionality or otherwise of any tackler.
  6. Longer times to conduct reviews of disputed tackles should result in fairer outcomes for both the tackler and the player tackled.
  7. It avoids the difficulty for referees in having to make-on-the spot decisions regarding the intentionality of the tackler, the severity of the tackle and the appropriate penalty to be applied.

So there is my contribution to saving Rugby Union as a sport. The rules are simple and could be applied almost immediately. Almost before the World Cup in a few weeks time! It offers a real duty of care for the team supporters so they get value for the money they have spent in following their team to often distant lands.

It also offers duty of care for players in having evenly numbered teams contesting for success. It offers a fairer assessment of intentionality [if that is ever possible] and an easier way of ensuring players are immediately protected in disputed tackles. It should also help reduce the number of illegal tackles in games as selectors would be loth to pick players who infringe regularly when they play.

At a time when many former players of contact sports such as Rugby Union, Rugby League and American Football have been diagnosed as suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy [CTE] from repeated head injuries, these suggestions above could make a difference. There is nothing more excruciating than seeing a player who had received an obvious blow to the head in a tackle get up, shake his head, stagger a bit and then keep on playing. [My only personal experience with concussion whilst playing A Grade Rugby League made me realise that one can get up and continue playing without anyone realising some damage has occurred. My problem was that at half time I asked the coach what team we were playing. [We were actually playing the RAAF team at Amberley Airbase in the Ipswich Rugby League competition, so normally that would have been obvious with a number of Canberra bombers clearly in sight.] It was only after a night spent under observation in the Ipswich General Hospital that I realised that I had been concussed.]  Real duty of care demands that any blow to the head should be taken seriously and immediate assessment for damage take place. My humble suggestions above attempt to go some distance in making that provision.

Blog No.322. Solving Some Of Rugby Union’s Problems. A View From An Elderly Fan. Posted on Tuesday 13thAugust 2019

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
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