To ruck, or not to ruck

2014-03-16 14:00

Former All Black coach JJ Stewart used to have a rule of thumb for selecting a flanker – he would look at the scars on his back.

What Stewart was looking for was rake and stud marks, and he was strongly of the opinion that “a loosie who doesn’t have ‘em is no good!”

Those were the days when rucking – the act of harshly using one’s studs to rake over a player shielding the ball on the ground – was allowed.

And the crusty old coach didn’t want anyone who wasn’t prepared to put his body on the line.

Although the law itself has not changed in many years, rucking has been outlawed in the modern game because of safety considerations – that is, to prevent the sight of blood on TV.

Now two former internationals have called for its return to save a game that is having the pizazz choked out of it because of persistent offside play.

Former Springbok Rob Louw and former Wallaby David Campese are adamant that a return to rucking is what’s needed to get the best out of naturally attacking players and to halt a continuing slide in spectator numbers.

“Refs are not hard enough on the game-killers,” said Louw.

“There’s a rhythm in a game that tells you when a try is on but what happens now is that teams simply slow the ball down by getting hands on – milliseconds is all it takes to break the tempo and shut down space.

“The only way to stop it is to bring [rucking] back – we’ve got to get the pace back, the game is crying out for it. I was never hurt in a ruck.”

He added: “The safety concerns can be sorted out by coming down hard on offenders – players will soon learn the difference between rucking and stamping.”

According to the outspoken Campese, rugby has become boring.

“All the flair’s been taken out. Players just barge into each other until someone decides to kick the ball. You could take the players from the Sharks, the Stormers and the Bulls, get them to switch jerseys, and you wouldn’t know the difference. They all play the same rugby.

“The element of daring has gone because the ball comes back so slowly. You want it spitting out the back, you want defences disorganised, and the only way to get that is to go back to rucking.

“We do understand the injury worries but that would be simple to sort out – if you touch someone’s head you’re gone for six months,” Campese added.

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett agreed with these sentiments but doubted rucking could be restored.

“There’s no doubt rucking would speed up play but I would be concerned about bringing boots back into play. If you were not allowed hands in, there would be plenty of mayhem on the ground and that might be harmful to the game in the long run,” said Mallett.

“We want 12- and 13-year-olds playing rugby and the sight of someone bleeding from a head wound on TV would not go down well with mothers and those who say the game is too dangerous. In my view, there should be a greater emphasis by assistant referees to eradicate offsides.

“First, the assistant referee’s role should be to patrol offsides and he should really concentrate on the first defender to see that he’s behind the hindmost foot. There should also be more focus on guys moving away in the contact zone. If we make sure guys don’t move up too quickly that should create the space,” he added.

Rugby rules misinterpreted

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