A big debate that first appeared in the issue of Rugby World out in January.
Face-off: Should there be fewer substitutions in rugby?
Ex-England ten turned pundit
“I’ve long thought the number of subs available in rugby was a subject for discussion. I tweeted about it in March and had some interesting responses to my idea of having as many subs on the bench as we do now, but only being able to use three. My basic question is that as players get bigger, impacts more fierce and injuries more prevalent, how do you reverse the trends?
“My answer is to replace the search for more power with a need for more endurance. If it’s an 80-minute exercise for a dozen of your team – if all backs go the distance, five forwards do too – you get rid of the 50- or 30-minute monsters.
“You also reduce the impacts without fresh meat to go berserk for a few minutes. Set-piece is crucial and specialists would populate the bench so uncontested scrums are not an issue, nor collapsed scrums. With little space these days, fatigue creates space. This also brings back the one-on-one contest for 80 minutes against your opposite number.”
Former Springboks prop
“The notion that rugby will become more attractive by decreasing substitutions is short-sighted. Modern demands on players and the ever-increasing calendar has added to the reliance on the bench. Some coaches use this better than others and in the process, brought about a new breed of player: the “super sub” or “impact” player who can ignite an attack.
“This is great for rugby – it’s allowed a type of player to entertain us on a stage he/she might not have previously. If subs numbers were decreased, this type of star would be the first to be cut, with specialised positions taking preference, a contradictory move.
“Science shows that most soft-tissue injuries happen in the latter part of the game. Trauma injuries also increase due to fatigue and slower reactions in the tackle and scrum. Specialists – ie, the front row – can’t be compromised on.
“Everyone wants to contribute. It’s hard to juggle motivations if some weeks they are less likely to come on and fight to get a start.”
This debate first appeared in the issue of Rugby World out in January.
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