Wanted - A True Survival of the Fittest

So Dan Carter is out, Richie McCaw is coming apart at the seams, Kutley Beale is hobbling and Digby Ione is giving everyone the finger. When it comes to toughness these modern-day global showpieces are wimps compared to their historical forebears.

But first a history lesson to put all this moaning and whingeing in context (courtesy of the excellent RugbyFootballHistory.com)

It wasn't until 1968-69 that an injured player could be replaced and tactical substitutions (from the 'bench') were not sanctioned in Rugby Union until as recently as 1996. Players had to play on injured or sit the match out.

The argument goes that if there's no danger of a player being replaced then there is an increased likelihood of foul play from an opponent looking to put someone out of the game. Yet since 1888 the referee has been empowered to send off an opponent for foul play. Originally this was at the discretion of the referee who could send a player off for any amount of time they deemed fit.

The concept of red and yellow cards obviously came from soccer, but South Africa had suggested the concept of a 'cooler' (sin bin) as early as 1972. It wasn't until 2000 though that the use of red and yellow cards (and the concept of a sin bin) in Rugby were officially sanctioned.

So where does that leave today's cotton-wooled purse carrying nancy boys?

Well to say that they are soft misses the point that injuries have always happened and have always been part of the tactical nuance of the game. These days they are dealt with on the field with expert use of magic sprays, high-tech bandages and water bottles that magically dispence into the players mouth. Players, walk, get carried or get buggied off the field at regular intervals, but the point is there's always someone to take their place (even if it is Radike Samo on the wing).

A true test of character would be if we returned to the glory days of the 1960s. No benches, no cards, no substitutions. If a player was at risk pre-game of injury then he wouldn't be selected. Those who were picked were chosen for their resiliance and their history of going the full 80 minutes at full steam ahead. If a comrade fell you picked up the slack and compensated, and if you fell you ran around on one leg or with blood pouring out of a cut then feinting or permanent disfigurement was the price to be paid for enjoying the on-field action on the field in the company of those with similar mind-sets.

Forget the roughening up periods and the 'tough' forward battles you are witnessing at the World Cup. True gladiators haven't the played the game for 50 years. It's time to re-embrace the spirit of those times by banning those fringe players who warm themselves under blankets from the sidelines. To limit medics to band-aids, bandages and rub-downs. To leave players with arm injuries on the ground so that they can tackle like turnstiles (or Namibians) and to let those hamstrung hobble around shouting instructions if that's all that they have left to contribute.

Indeed limit World Cup squads to 15 players with no replacements and then let's see what happens when the 8 remaining Frenchmen take on the 6 remaining Welshmen and the 4 men of the All Blacks forwards confront the Wallabies loose forwards playing in the front row. Then we would know who the true World Champions are.