From player welfare to the rise of women’s rugby to Jordie Barrett’s best position – Paul Williams has you covered

20-minute red card sends wrong message

Currently, brain injuries in rugby are the sport’s leading concern. And rightly so. It is arguably the most important issue in the game, ever. Nothing matters more than preventing players experiencing life-altering brain issues just because they have played a sport.

That’s why the possibility of a 20-minute red card, which is already being trialled in Super Rugby and is being mooted for the northern hemisphere, seems wrong.

This column has long been a supporter of ANY changes to the laws. Rugby is a complicated game, and it needs to alter and simplify at a rate that few other sports do. But the talk of reducing red cards to 20 minutes doesn’t feel like a law experimentation, it feels like medical experimentation.

Allowing a team to limit the negativity of having a player sent off isn’t going to change player behaviour. Major behaviour changes require major, and sometimes uncomfortable, consequences. And those consequences must be faced by the offending team losing a match, not players losing their memories in their mid-40s.

Like all law tweaks, the 20-minute red card experiment can be changed back at any point, but it sends the wrong message to even attempt it at all. It could come across that player safety isn’t as high a priority as on-pitch entertainment. And that’s quite a statement.

Ban the double tackle and the latch entirely

As mentioned in the 20-minute red card section, rugby is currently altering its laws quicker than a Tory MP deleting his browsing history. And the issue of player safety should be primary.

It is through this lens that the double tackle and latch look like an obvious area for reform. With the increasing influence of rugby league on defensive systems, double tackles have become a staple of the game, particularly in the narrow channels. But why are they even part of the game at all? It’s hard enough as it is to run into one Lord of the Rings-style lock, without his massive orc-esque pal joining in.

If rugby collisions once again became a one-on-one battle, they would surely reduce in severity. The benefits of a one-on-one based defence would also negate the need for a ‘latch’ in any form. The need for ‘latches’ has only emerged because of the double tackle – the latch wasn’t even a thing until around 15 years ago.

Rugby has a big problem with collisions and one way to reduce them is to limit rugby to one-on-one hits.

Women’s rugby punching its weight

April was a massive month for women’s rugby. Wayne Smith is now coaching the Black Ferns, which is huge news. That one of the most successful Kiwi coaches is now in that role really shouldn’t be underestimated.

The French women’s team was splashed all over the front page of Midi Olympique, the United Rugby Championship showed early interest in starting a women’s comp and England once again broke the Six Nations attendance record – and nailed down another Grand Slam.

April 2022 seems like the month that the women’s game made a massive line break and a deep one at that. It’s fantastic.

‘Home and Away’ has revolutionised the Champions Cup

Not since Dannii Minogue arrived in Summer Bay has ‘Home and Away’ had such an impact on our TV screens. The change to the structure of the European Champions Cup, with the round of last 16 played over two legs, has been fantastic and made the business end of the tournament feel like a business that is genuinely open and not one that is closed to anyone playing away from home.

In the past, if you didn’t finish top of your group, and therefore guarantee a home fixture, you were essentially finished. Away wins were harder to predict than a citing ban. But that has not been the case this season.

Winning is no longer the primary goal. You need to win by a sufficient margin, which radically changes the approach when it comes to the first fixture – points are now key, not just the win. This has been one of Covid’s rare silver linings and hopefully it continues.

Australian rugby on the mend

Australian rugby has in recent months become the Wales of the south – New South Wales, if you will. Their Test team is no longer threatening the Springboks and All Blacks consistently, and there have been very real financial/structural issues.

Yet in April the Brumbies beat the Highlanders and Hurricanes in Super Rugby, and more importantly the Waratahs beat the Crusaders.

Perhaps the most positive news came off the field with reports that the ARU had significantly reduced its debt by an enviable level – a $4.5m deficit in 2021, down from $27.1m one year earlier. We shouldn’t really praise the financial results over the match results, but in pro sport, one follows the other.

Jordie Barrett is a 12

Some things are obvious to everyone, like Michael Fabricant needing a new wig supplier.  Some things are not, like Jordie Barrett is a 12. April once again saw big Jordie play at inside-centre and on the whole, he looks like the perfect 12.

He’s a rarity. There are plenty of centres who are massive, there are plenty of centres who are quick, there are plenty of centres who can pass and there are plenty of centres who can kick. But there are very few who can do it all. When you find a player who can do it all, it seems a waste not to play them there.

Jordie Barrett makes a break for the Hurricanes (AFP/Getty Images)

The benefits of playing a big 12 are obvious. But the benefits of playing a big 12 who can pass, is a no-brainer. Just look at the impact of Andre Esterhuizen at Harlequins. At times he’s unplayable and keeps defences guessing to the point that quantum theory looks like the easier thought process.

The All Blacks haven’t really nailed down the 12 shirt in recent seasons. Barrett, in that role, seems like a perfect fix.

Welsh regions need more quality overseas signings

April saw the Dragons sign Sio Tomkinson from the Highlanders and with it a reminder of what quality non-Welsh qualified (NQW) players can provide the regions.

The argument against too many overseas signings is that they block the pathway for Welsh talent. But Welsh rugby’s success can’t purely be judged by the national team and especially when two of the Welsh regions are currently at the bottom end of the United Rugby Championship table.

Test rugby devours club/regional playing resources like a hungover cannibal. It’s this problem that means quality NWQs are worth every penny. Just look at Sione Kalamafoni and Sam Lousi at the Scarlets. They’re arguably the region’s two best players and are available 365, 24/7.

Tomkinson will also fall into this bracket. He’s a fast, aggressive centre/wing who makes line breaks like Putin breaks promises. We all know that there isn’t enough money in Welsh regional rugby at the moment, but when that issue is resolved, some of it needs to be spent overseas.

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