Mind Games: Rugby has become mind-numbingly dull

2015-03-23 10:00

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One of the beauties of social media is that sports fans have a public voice like never before.

Supporters have always had strong views, but whereas in the past they were a largely mute mass, today they can air their thoughts on a number of platforms.

And they can do it instantly. A referee can be scorned, a player castigated or a mistake ridiculed.

Twitter, Facebook and the rest have become the loudspeakers of sports buffs and, recently, I have become aware of a trend in rugby.

More and more devotees have let me know – in no uncertain manner – that they believe the game has become boring and is no longer worth watching.

“I would rather get the results from the highlights programme on TV than watch a whole game,” is typical of sentiments expressed.

A regular complaint is that there is too much time wasting, such as setting the scrum, rather than actual action. A common thread is also the overarching influence of referees; the three match officials on the field and, especially, the one viewing replays off TV in a booth somewhere in the stadium.

“They shouldn’t call it rugby any more,” an irate former provincial player wrote to me. “They should rename the game ‘refereeing’ because that’s what it’s become – four blokes who think we’ve come to watch them!”

Another pet peeve is the modern phenomenon of teams trying to score tries by forming an almost impossible to defend – and arguably illegal – human wedge to drag the hindmost player across the goal line.

This tactic has become so prevalent that it is the butt of some sardonic humour in the SuperSport studio as Nick Mallett, Naas Botha, John Mitchell, Ashwin Willemse and the rest try to find something new or exciting to say about it.

It might be deliberately contrary of me to be writing that rugby might lack excitement and crowd satisfaction just when World Rugby, through chairperson Bernard Lapasset, announced that the rugby World Cup would be “a very special and record-breaking celebration”.

“England 2015,” says World Rugby, “is set to be the most viewed, best attended and most engaged rugby World Cup ever, while a record commercial programme will provide the financial platform for unprecedented investment in rugby worldwide.”

Of course it will help that the tournament will (mostly) be staged in London, one of the great tourist traps of the world. But I’m afraid that I am on the side of fans who would rather find something else to do than watch rugby on telly; never mind actually shelling out hard-earned cash to attend games.

Recently, the Chiefs game against the Stormers drew rave reviews due to the quality of the rugby – largely because the Kiwi outfit are so set on running the ball. But was it really that good?

Did that match, perhaps, not just stand out against the dross other teams are dishing up?

A game that makes provision for all shapes and sizes and contains so many facets has the potential to provide undiluted exhilaration, but sadly too many teams don’t try to play it that way.

Winning at all costs rules. Pushing the envelope is frowned upon. Attitudes have to change, but in the meantime, there is no getting away from it – rugby has become mind-numbingly dull.

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