It's time to change the discourse about aggression in rugby, argues our features editor. Let's celebrate control and berate berserkers
Opinion: Aggression without control equals awful rugby
Rugby as a sport needs aggression. At the core of the elite game, you have to dominate the opposition.
And talk of it is ingrained. During this year’s Rugby Championship, Springboks prop Steven Kitshoff said: “We want to play the game inside the law book, with as much aggression, power, and speed as possible”.
In an interview with Rugby World last season, Ospreys and Wales hooker Dewi Lake told us: “I think a lot of people talk about aggression in this game, but no, it’s obviously that controlled aggression.”
And before Bledisloe I on Thursday, Wallabies wing Marika Koroibete talked of beating the All Blacks with “just more brutality”, and the key being to “just bring aggression on Thursday”.
And he’s right. It’s vital. But there is another element to this, and it’s something Lake and Kitshoff talk to above.
It came into agonising focus on Thursday, as Australia’s Darcy Swain scythed into a breakdown, desperate to make a physical impact – any physical impact – and ended up devastating Quinn Tupaea’s leg, resulting in a ruptured medial cruciate ligament (MCL) and a partial anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in his left knee.
Somehow Swain only saw yellow for his savage clearout but has since been cited. Fans want the book thrown at the guy. However, if we all want to preserve the physical nature of the game, let’s hammer poor technique and talk in a direct fashion.
Related: What is a jackler?
The game needs balance. Aggression is key, but controlled aggression. The second it tips all the way towards the latter, over and over, you’re bound to do something dumb. Lapses will happen, of course. That’s human. But at the very elite end, the best players have both the physicality and the game intelligence.
So when a physically dominant player gets the upper hand over and over, great. But if you don’t have the timing, technique or attitude to do that consistently, and have to fall into a berserker state just to get in the mix, that ain’t good enough. Be blunt – there are deficiencies in your game. Get better.
If you didn’t arrive early enough to make a real impact at the ruck and so are flying towards it at a trajectory even you can’t compute (or worse, with genuine intent to harm a fellow professional), then you must know what’s coming next. And let’s be clear, your coaches and colleagues are being hindered by you here.
In so many other areas, like goalkicking, throwing in or contesting in scrums, failings are discussed ad nauseam. Well here we are, at the Wild West of the breakdown. What are you going to do there?
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