By Luke Walpole
THE SIGHT of two colossal packs throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at each other is becoming all too common in the northern hemisphere.
This year’s Six Nations was far from vintage viewing, setting records for all the wrong reasons: it had the fewest number of tries ever scored (37) and a tries-per-match average of 2.47 – the first time the figure has fallen below three. England scored only one try after the first weekend, yet finished runners-up.
Compare that to the halcyon days of 2005 when there were 71 tries at an average of 4.73 a game and it certainly paints a bleak picture.
So what’s changed? Well, at the elite level the sport has become fixated on breeding behemoths rather than rewarding skill and ability, a criticism that can be levelled at both forwards and backs. This war of attrition that coaches have signed up to creates mostly dull matches – and fans won’t tolerate it for long. For proof, remember how Saracens supporters booed their own team for negative play in 2009, despite the club being top of the Premiership at the time.
Coaches seem to be missing a trick. As a warm-blooded Saxon this next claim is hard to stomach, but I believe we should learn from the Aussies. Down Under, union isn’t a main sport, and its fight to attract punters has seen them play an attractive, expansive style.
In the Premiership there is so much attacking talent – Kyle Eastmond and Christian Wade to name but two – so it’s senseless to kick for the corners in open play and let the forwards monopolise the match. Purists may disagree and cite that old cliché ‘Forwards decide who wins, backs decide by how many’, but the current climate is suffocating creativity.
The whole sporting scenery is saturated, so rugby must try to stand out. Attacking rugby attracts new fans. Although the economic benefit is tangible, the other benefit is more visceral – the more vibrant atmosphere that bigger crowds bring. Even the purists can’t scoff at that.
Loosening the shackles will improve the players’ skills, increase spectator numbers and create a buzz around the sport. A win-win-win scenario, surely?
This was published in the September 2013 edition of Rugby World. Click here to see what’s in the current issue.