The apocryphal tale of William Webb Ellis, the boy “who with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball.
Billy was the model for a long line of bad boys and girls who realized that the people who made rugby rules didn’t think like the people who played it.
Over the past two millennia, it would appear that very little has changed.
The international teams’ approach to their attacking game has undergone a significant shift since 2022. A new attitude toward running the ball has emerged all over the world. Players are leading a positive change away from the terrible negativity of the Lions tour of South Africa in 2021, when both teams played poorly.
Players in France, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales, Australia, Italy, and Ireland today have all made the decision to pick up the ball and run with it, just like Billy Ellis when he was a young rugby player. And all the best to them.
England and South Africa continue to be resistant. Despite having an abundance of talented players who have the potential to be effective ball runners, both teams have a mentality that emphasizes physicality over offensive play.
The rules of the game themselves are the only thing keeping us from enjoying more of this generation of positive players. Today’s games only have the ball in play for incredibly brief stretches of 80 minutes, and despite the obvious positive intentions of the coaches and players, pedantic officiating of an excessively large law book is preventing the game from having the ball in play for longer periods of time.
Keep in mind that the Springboks were forced to attack as a result of the Wallabies’ strategy in the Adelaide Test match this season, and that the ball was in play for an appallingly short 28 minutes.
You would expect a reaction of huge size from an overseeing body confronted with such an incredible measurement that for 52 minutes of a significant Test match literally nothing was going on.
The areas that need to be changed are numerous, with many games having more than 26 penalties, scrums that can take two minutes to set, and conversations between TMOs and referees that are so complicated they look more like a Monty Python sketch than officials making decisions.
World Rugby made an extremely disappointingly small list of law reforms last week. There was a lot of talk about cutting down on waste of time, but the changes lacked much substance.
Trials that would align penalty goals, drop goals, and conversions at two points and raise the value of tries to seven points are not even being considered by World Rugby. These would not affect any laws that are in place on the field, but they would influence players’ decision-making and coaches’ attitudes toward pursuing rather than penalties.
Although the new rule requires scrums to be ready to pack within 30 seconds of the referee’s whistle and prohibiting forwards from forming a huddle prior to each lineout.
are welcome and very positive steps, nothing has been done to reduce the flood of match-deciding penalties caused by highly questionable decisions made by referees at scrums.
No new laws would be required if the laws of the 1980s, when scrum infringements could only result in free kicks, were applied to all scrum violations. In any case, this would stop the ongoing double-dealing of the law that has pretty much every group in the world scrummaging for punishments, without a consideration for winning belonging.
The number of shots at goal and touch penalty kicks would decrease significantly if scrum infringements were converted to free kicks. A reduction in lineouts and the endless mauls that result in hookers scoring far more tries than centerers would be the knock-on effect.