Lions great Ken Scotland says rugby must become 13-a-side to create space on the field

Rugby Rant: Make rugby union 13-a-side

I WATCH club rugby, Heriot’s mainly, on most Saturday afternoons and also professional rugby on television. I took out a subscription on Amazon Prime for the Autumn Nations Cup. It’s clear the game at the moment has a problem. There is no space to play attacking, fluent rugby.

We’re not going to get bigger pitches, so to create more space the obvious answer is to have fewer players.

Unlike in my playing days, the game now involves 46 players rather than 30. If you have 46 people expending 100% energy in a limited space, there’s obviously a lot more energy being generated than there would be by 30 people. That is a major argument for reducing the number of players and I think having 13 players in a team makes a lot of sense.

A result of doing that is that you would need fewer replacements. And your scrums would become virtually like rugby league scrums, which in effect is what union scrums are at the moment, except they have a referee orchestrating 16 people heaving and shoving and wasting time. The ball is put in squint yet it doesn’t come out quickly. The forwards continue to huff and puff, which is totally ridiculous. What you want is a quick heel to get the ball in and out quickly, not the game getting bogged down.

“You shouldn’t be able to keep hitting a brick wall without losing possession. It’s killing the game”

So that is another argument for reducing the numbers. With fewer players on the pitch, everybody is moving about more quickly and you don’t need behemoths coming on to pretend to scrummage. Your substitutes would be much more all-rounders, able to play in virtually any position.

If the laws were being properly applied, that would help rugby as well. Players going off their feet into rucks, or being taken out without the ball – there are things that aren’t being refereed. But I think criticism should be directed more at the actual laws than the referees.

I’m also against a team having five or six or seven goes to gain a yard. That is killing the game. So I think you shouldn’t be allowed more than, say, six phases. You shouldn’t be able to go on hitting a brick wall without losing possession.

It could be that if you have been hammering away at your opponents for six plays, the opposition get the ball. They would have a penalty, basically.

In saying this, you’ve got to be aware of the law of unintended consequences. You might make one law change and create two new problems. I think it’s something that has to be done but it’s got to be done very carefully.

This article originally appeared in Rugby World magazine in January.

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