The proliferation of 'kick tennis' as risk-averse teams play the odds has prompted some to call for a law change to the mark. So would it work? Read our Face-off debate
Should players be allowed to call for a mark anywhere in their own half?
YES, says the World Cup winner and commentator
“It’s definitely worth a trial. We need to do something and change what is seen as the best way to win a rugby game, which is to kick away the ball in the middle part of the pitch. And if this is the way of doing it, I would support it.
I’ve got no problem with kicking in rugby, or the number of kicks, but they should be part of an attacking game rather than mindlessly kicking it to the opposition and they kick it back.
Related: What is a mark in rugby?
Something needs to be done about the unwillingness of teams to play any rugby in the middle third of the pitch.
You’ll never get a group of coaches who say, ‘I’ll take a risk and play a certain way’. They just want to win, so unless you change the laws you’re going to be stuck with the same outcome. I like the fact that teams play differently but it seems the best way to win is kicking the ball.
Steve Borthwick and Eddie Jones have used Oval Insights, who put stats together on which teams win the most games. And the ones that don’t have the ball in the middle third tend to win, which is why England played the way they did in the World Cup.
There are always trends as things are defended better, so it can evolve naturally. But I think we need a fairly big reset if we want to see more attacking rugby.
It might take away some of the attacking kicks we see outside the 22 and people will rightly come up with reasons why it might not work, but until you test something you won’t know.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
NO, says Rugby World‘s content editor
“It’s not a bad idea to try to cut down on the incessant number of box-kicks that we’ve seen creeping into the game, but allowing players to mark the ball anywhere inside their own half is not the play.
Good box-kicks are contestable and thus there will be no incentive to stop trying to hoist the ball high if you can get a good chase to put the pressure on.
The move is unlikely to do anything to halt kick-tennis battles that are a common bugbear in the game. In the kicking exchanges we see now, many players could call marks in their own 22 but opt not to during long territorial battles and the same thing could happen anywhere.
Like with any law change, we may find ourselves facing up to a host of unintended consequences. South Africa’s alpha move of calling a scrum from a mark at the World Cup could now become a lethal weapon.
At a time when scrumming for penalties is criticised and there is a consensus that the game needs speeding up, it will soon become a slippery slope if we give teams a platform to call for more scrums.
Unless the law changes so that you can kick free-kicks directly out from beyond the 22, then the best options will be packing down or just booting up another up-and-under after waiting for your team to get back onside. That would hardly be a progressive move.
Cracking down on the caterpillar rucks would be a far better way to depower the box-kick and make it a harder skill to execute.”
Face-off: Should players be allowed to call for a mark anywhere in their own half? We want to know what YOU think. Email your views to rugbyworldletters@futurenet
This debate first appeared in the January 2024 issue of Rugby World