A Load of Crap

It took till about 5:45 am on a Sunday morning half-way through the 48th and final game of the 2007 Rugby World Cup for reality to dawn (not to mention the day). The problem with Rugby isn't too much kicking or too much forward play or too much slowing down the ball. The problem is too much crapness.

By full-time the theory had gone beyond such speculation as the evidence was there for all to see.

The final was intense and gripping. A classic armwrestle in a classic final - classic being defined as tight with not much scoring. The ball rarely got beyond the inside centre. An average run was about two metres back into the forwards for another bout of arm wrestling. On and on it went. The Rolling Maul was enjoying it. But why? No tries were being scored and there were no beautiful flowing back line movements. Only the previous week the Rolling Maul had almost begged the English Rugby team to express themselves with ball in hand and flung to the wingers as it was the key to Rugby enjoyment (not to mention the flowering of the game worldwide).

The previous week the Rolling Maul had been up at the same time screaming at the TV as Argentina dropped and fumbled ball after ball handing South Africa the match on a platter. But multiple tries were scored as a winger, Bryan Habana ran rampant. The following day a crap Frenchman made a stupid mistake after a minute and-a-half and effectively gave England a head start that they wouldn't relinquish.

And in the Quarter-Finals the Wallabies were dreadful against a dull and boring England. And of course the game sucked (irrespective of the result, though that would have helped).

What do all these games have in common? Crapness. Remember the Wallabies were within a penalty kick of defeating England but were awful. They only had to be slightly less crap and they would have won. But it would have made no difference to the enjoyment of the game (well, maybe a bit) but the game itself would have been just as crap had Stirling Mortlock's kick sailed over the black dot.

Fiji lost by a lot more to South Africa than Australia did against England but the game was probably the match of the tournament. No crapness there.

The All Blacks fell away when the pressure counted and went for a try when a field goal would have done. But neither they nor France were crap and the game was a good one (though the tactics of the All Blacks from the time of resting players during the Super 14 may have been crap). Unlike Scotland and Argentina, another tight game but one where the two teams battled each other to see who was most crap (Scotland).

So the key to a great game of Rugby is not how the game is played but that the game is played well. Scrum reset after scrum reset with a plethora of penalties is not the fault of the law makers but an indictment on the level of skill being displayed. If the ball wasn't being knocked on then there wouldn't be as many scrums, and if players weren't knocking on then they'd be more likely to run the ball and not kick it.

If props are collapsing scrums because it's the only way they can compete then that's crap Rugby, not crap refereeing or crap rules. If the up-and-under is tedious then that's because the players are fumbling the catch or the kick was too far or not far enough (or crap in other words).

The experimental laws that were trialled this year in Australian club and provincial Rugby were generally well received but that's because the players were mostly fit, young and enthusiastic and liked to run the ball. They had the skill levels to show the new rules off in the best light. But there were still crap games. Rule changes will make no difference to the quality of the Rugby on display unless the coaches and players have the skills to exploit them in the way that they are intended.

Bring on the new laws, but teach players to pass, catch, scrummage and recycle ball first.