There were some common sore points and a few differences of opinion within the group. Who knows if Dan McKellar will speak to John Eales again after the World Cup-winning captain suggested the rolling maul be banned. In bad news for the Brumbies coach, Bob Dwyer agreed with Eales.
McKellar found a kindred spirit in Eddie Jones, however, who agreed with McKellar that match officials held great responsibility for whether a law change would have the desired effect.
“Rugby is a complex game and the laws need to be refereed but we can’t be pedantic and blowing the pea out of the whistle,” McKellar said. “Nobody wants to see games with 30-plus penalties. People want to see the game flow. No matter what changes you make, the officials play a huge part in what fans actually see.”
Jones was typically laconic – “they have to referee the laws, they don’t need to explain them” – but framed the rest of his comments around bringing back ‘fatigue’ in the hope that games would open up more. “There’s too much power in it right now and it’s too slow,” he said.
Olympic sevens champion and Wallaroo Shannon Parry was picking up what McKellar was putting down in reference to rucks. Referees are allowing halfbacks too much time to plot their next moves and arrange their troops. Parry gave a thumbs up to the 50-22/22-50 rule being trialled in Super Rugby AU, and it will come as no surprise to anyone that four of our experts, including Karmichael Hunt, took aim at scrum resets.
Living legend Bob Dwyer, coach of the 1991 World Cup winning Wallabies, brought welcome perspective, countering that there wasn’t much wrong with modern rugby, saying it was “four times better” than in his day. “The game has become miles more exciting,” Dwyer said. “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
We’ll let the rest speak for themselves.
Former Wallabies coach and current England boss
Allow six replacements per game from a bench of 10
“It makes for a bit of strategic decision-making and would bring in fatigue. With 15 in a game at present you can bring on eight replacements. For a strong country like England, you lose nothing. It’s like bringing on a second starting eight. The game is supposed to be a test of skill and physical prowess and at the moment, without fatigue, there’s no real test of prowess. With only six replacements allowed you might use one forward to cover the back five, one hooker that can play flanker and then two backs. It gives you some strategic latitude.”
No penalty kicks at goal from scrums
“You can pack and reset once but instead of another reset, I’d award a differential penalty. The team awarded the penalty can kick for touch or take a quick tap but you can’t kick for goal. You can’t have this incessant thing where the period of the scrum can go for 10 minutes. It is ruining the game.”
Only the tackler can use their hands in a ruck
“This is a bit experimental but particularly with the safety issues in the game these days, the more we’ve got people on their feet, the safer the game is. We have a brutal game and if we can keep people higher at the breakdown that would be a good thing.”
World Cup-winning Wallabies captain in 1999
Get rid of the scrum penalty
“I’ve always thought this and it was reinforced during the World Cup final. If you’re pushing back a team in a scrum – referees do have to make a judgement on safety – then that’s your advantage. You shouldn’t get a penalty and have the chance to kick goals because you have a superior scrum. Perhaps unless you’re five metres out from their line. Referees need to tell people to use the ball when teams are going back. When a scrum is going forward, there are plenty of opportunities to attack and you’ve got to be creative from that opportunity. You’ve got your advantage already.”
Ban the rolling maul
“The only time there is not a genuine contest for the ball is in the rolling maul off line outs. The thing that differentiates rugby from other sports is the constant contest for possession. Every lineout, every time someone is tackled and theoretically every scrum, there is a genuine contest for possession.”
World Cup-winning Wallabies coach in 1991
Ball carrier has to be at the front of a driving maul
“The driving maul ought to be illegal the way it’s played now. You’re allowed to be in front of the ball carrier and you’re allowed to grab hold of potential tacklers with impunity. I reckon we should change the maul law that if the ball carrier is no longer in direct contact with an opponent, the maul is over. It’s obstruction. You can still have a driving maul but the guy in the front of the maul has got to maintain possession of the ball.”
Tightening up the offside line
“We should change the law to say the onus is on the defensive team to be onside and if you’re not definitely onside, you’re offside. There’s a lot of fudging and referee letting things go, particularly around pick and drives.”
Come down harder on cynical penalties
“Refs always say it wasn’t a repeated penalty, therefore they can’t give a yellow card. Of course they can. If a person commits a cynical breach of the laws of the game for his own team’s benefit, that should be a yellow. We’ve got to be careful we don’t reduce the value of the penalty though by so much that teams would rather give penalties away any day of the week. We don’t want a zillion kicks at goal but by the same token we don’t want people giving away penalties with impunity.”
Olympic gold medallist, three Rugby World Cups
Penalties should be worth two points, not three
“You want to see more tries rather than teams kicking goals all over the paddock. If you’ve got a good kicking team like the All Blacks, they just kick teams off the park. As a spectator you want to see tries and entertainment. You don’t want to see a Bledisloe that is 15-0 and all penalties. If you make it that one point less, maybe they will kick for the corner.”
Bring in 50-22s and 22-50s
“If you could bring these into the girls’ game, it’d be a huge advantage. It would entice teams to run more having the back three back. Not a lot of nations have good five-eighths that can kick because kicking for a girl is not something that comes natural. In our team, not a lot of girls can drop-kick because it’s not natural and something you do from a young age.”
Halfback has to use the ball quicker
“Sometimes halfbacks put their hands in and hold it back forever. Use it straight away. The rule now is that if a bird can poo on the ball, it’s out. If the halfback uses their foot to bring the ball to the back of the ruck, that’s fine, but as soon as he or she puts their hand on the ball, it’s a free for all. It entices a faster game.”
One point for a drop goal, two for a penalty
“They’re both valued too highly and there needs to be more value placed on scoring tries. Getting this change past our friends in the northern hemisphere would be difficult.”
Reduce scrum reset opportunities
“Any free kick given for a scrum, you can’t opt to take another scrum. It’s just tap and play and then you can do whatever you want. Scrummaging and mauling are part of the fabric of the game. They’re a genuine contest that creates one-on-one opportunities for the outside backs. A possible issue, however, would be if an attacking team is going for a pushover try, does a weaker scrum try to manipulate the law and concede a free kick? Possibly, but to stop that from happening the referee identifies the tactic and commonsense applies. The referee as always has the option to award a penalty to the attacking scrum.”
Enforce box kick time limits
“The law states you have five seconds to use the ball at the back of a ruck but how many times do you see three, four or five players be brought into the line to give a halfback time to set up for a box kick and then eventually, execute the kick? That sometimes takes 15 seconds or more. People can see it happening and you can often hear the crowd’s sighs of frustration. I’m not bagging box kicking. The best halfbacks in the world have unbelievable execution and a lot of opportunities come off the back of accurate box kicking, supported by excellent kick-chase. It’s the process that has got out of hand. You see some incredibly long rucks, particularly in the north, and a lot of times the ball would have been considered out in the past.”
Six Wallabies Tests, former Kangaroos representative
More punishment for a missed penalty
“If a missed penalty occurs, the attacking team can decide to take a lineout or scrum at the point where the kick was taken, or kick a quick 22-metre drop out. This will place more pressure on having a shot at goal, especially from distance.”
Tighter advantage rule
“The advantage rules needs to be cleaned up with a clear direction. The rule could be you have only one phase and then the advantage is over, so the attacking team knows they have to take penalty or play on.”
Limit the amount of consecutive scrum attempts
“I’m not a forward, so I don’t know how this can be policed better, but it’s something that needs to be improved.”
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Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald
Georgina Robinson is the chief rugby reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.