Mind Games: Officials should take a close look at tedious time-wasting tactics

2015-03-30 10:00

Few would disagree that there is just too much rugby these days – but a key question is: “How much rugby is actually being played?”

An opposite reaction to the packed fixture list is that teams have subtly fallen into a pattern in which the ball is less often in play.

Officials have long been concerned with delivering a game with fewer stoppages and more action, especially as that is one of the criticisms rugby league adherents level at rugby union.

But they have been unable to raise the “ball-in-play” average to consistently higher than 40% of the 80 minutes of game time.

During the 1995 rugby World Cup in South Africa, a survey found the average was 25% – administrators were horrified.

Efforts were made to eliminate static moments in the game and there was an improvement. However, an element of tedium – the boredom I spoke of in my column last week – is slowly infiltrating the game.

Having to keep tabs on as many games as I do, and with not enough time to sit through all of them, I realised I could skim through most games in about 20 minutes by using my PVR’s fast-forwarding function.

The key time wasters are:

.?How long it takes for kickers to take place kicks;

.?The delays in setting scrums;

.?Television match officials (TMO) taking an age to review incidents in games; and

.?The time it takes to restart the game after a try has been scored.

There are several other dead moments, too. Some teams are slow to get to line-outs, particularly after kicking a penalty to touch, but the delays above are the key aspects officials might be able to move on.

Kickers are big culprits. Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes regularly takes about 80 seconds to place the ball and perform a kick at the posts, and many others also do so at their leisure.

It is therefore easy to see that more than 10 minutes of game time can be lost if each kicker in a team attempts five goal kicks apiece (the average is higher).

There is also a tendency for goal kickers to create a delay between tries being scored and the ball being put back into play – even though referees are meant to give them the hurry-up signal.

A solution might be that the clock has to stop for all place kicks.

My timing of scrums revealed that they take 45 seconds to set, on average. Often, there are problems with the engagement or the referees order a set piece to be retaken.

You can easily have more than two minutes expended on just one play.

There are obviously safety considerations, but it is clear that the sport’s rule makers have to do something to simplify and expedite a facet that is intrinsic to rugby.

There were fears when the fourth referee or TMO was introduced in 2001 that replays would result in too many unnecessary time-outs. This is increasingly becoming true.

There is little doubt that referees are too quick to refer incidents to television adjudicators.

Obviously there is the desire to arrive at the right decision, but too often, TMOs look at too many angles and repeats when the first replay clears up what was in dispute.

Of course, it could be that players, already struggling with a punishing schedule, might be unable to actually “play more rugby” in each match.

But there is no doubt rugby needs to get a giddy-up.

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