The laws must be simplified to make rugby accessible to all, argues RW reader Paul Meaden

Rugby Rant: Simplify the laws

IN THE first half of the Gallagher Premiership season opener between Bristol and Saracens, there were 11 full penalties and one reset scrum. Nine offences were ‘technical’ and most were breakdown scenarios. The net result was 16 minutes during which the ball was not in open play. Three of the final four minutes were consumed by players shuffling from the site of one offence to another.

To further dilute the amount of time spent running around, all present were subjected to irrational attempts to benefit from the new 50:22 rule. The big boys were stationary spectators, working little but their neck muscles.  Most of these offences contravened laws designed to improve player safety. Especially the application of the new World Rugby guidance at the breakdown, aimed at mitigating the hazards of jackling.

I have read the guidance and the logic seems sound enough. But the greater point has been missed. Player safety is not improved by any change that results in 60-minute halves, where three tons of pro athletes are handed 20 minutes’ recovery time, while the referee consults TMOs or another shot-at-goal ritual is endured. Until changes are made so laws or guidance don’t naturally provide abundant recovery time, the cycle of smash-rest-repeat will continue to be the greatest risk to player safety.

Player safety is not the only risk to rugby’s long-term future. To make rugby fiscally self-sufficient and sustainable, it needs to be accessible to a broader demographic. Mystifying laws open to broad interpretation, nonsensically broad scope for the use of technology and endless TMO consultations with ambiguous outcomes make this unlikely.

To understand rugby well enough to have an informed debate over a coffee requires time and money. We’ve all heard the player-turned-pundit cheerfully declare on TV that the front row is a vipers’ nest of unknowable dark arts. Can you really blame a rugby-curious parent for switching off?

Rugby governance seldom strays beyond its own frontiers. Experts want their well-intended but blinkered expertise to count. Consequently, outcomes from intra-rugby consultations are complex where simplicity is required.

The solution is simple. World Rugby should appoint an independent panel of proven problem-solvers from business and industry to conduct a comprehensive review of the laws. The brief: radically simplify the laws, improve player safety and optimise the use of technology to make rugby accessible to everyone.

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