On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Six Nations Championship, which has just seen its second week of games in this year's edition. Last year, of course, Wales won the Grand Slam, but I mention this merely in passing.
I played rugby during my time at Woolverstone Hall School in the 1960s and I even played one game after having left the school. At Woolverstone we were fortunate to have an excellent sports master, who, rumour had it, had once had a trial for Wales. Glynn "Taffy" Evans was not a big man, but he inspired fear and confidence, standing for no nonsense, but eminently fair and ready with a word of encouragement when needed and one of congratulation when deserved. Passing, backing up, lining up, grubber-kicking, dummying, tackling… we had to get the basics of rugby down pat, or we had Mr Evans to answer to, with extra training his supremely apt solution, irrespective of climatic conditions. Up and down the pitch, repeating the imperfectly executed procedure until it was perfect and little more than second nature.
Watching the professional players in the Six Nations, I often wonder what Mr Evans would have done with them. If he were still around today (sadly, he died some years ago), he would have these giants quaking before his diminutive yet elegant stature, as he mocked their inability to pass, to line up in the three quarters, to tackle correctly, to… well, you get the picture, for professional players who are presumed to spend hours practising, they make far too many basic errors.
Anyway, the rant has nothing to do with this post, which, instead, takes a look at some ways to improve the game in general, rather than the skills of the players.
So here are some suggestions as to how rugby can be made an even better game than it is now (and it is already the very best game in the world, of course).
- Calling mark. In the old days, to call a valid mark, the ball-catcher had to be standing still with both feet on the ground. Let's return to that way of doing it and stop the nonsense of marks being called by running, jumping players. Either that, or scrap the mark altogether.
- Delaying. The scrum-half can be punished for delaying the put-in at a scrum; the thrower can be punished for delaying the throw-in at a line-out. Let's add to this a punishment for delaying the ball from re-entering full play at rucks and other break-downs.
- Off is off. Forget the sin-bin; players are deemed to know the rules. If a player infringes a rule so that he is currently sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes, instead let him be sent off for the duration of the game and let his infringement be judged for possible further banning.
- Exuberant celebration. When a score is made, the game must recommence as soon as possible from the mid line. We do not want soccer-like celebratory exuberance and certainly no hugging: the scorer has done no more than his job and it is now time to get on with the game. Any delay caused by such celebration should be punished: how about wiping out the score that led to the celebration?
- Binding. There is a correct way to bind in the scrum. All other ways are incorrect and should be treated as an infringement. Scrums should not be allowed to collapse repeatedly as a result of poor binding and because the referee does nothing about it.
- Padding. Rugby is not American football, where players dress up in carnival outfits, full of hard padding and even wear, wait for it, crash helmets! Only basic padding (such as a double layer of cloth on shoulders) and a simple scrum cap to protect the ears should be allowed. All the rest is for the nancy-boys of American football.
- Crouch, touch, pause, set: load of nonsense. If a pack doesn't scrum down correctly, penalise it, but don't let's go through these synchronised dance movements. The referee is there to make sure that the rules are followed; he is not Victor Silvester directing some strange new dance ("Crouch, touch, pause-pause, set").
- Man in front: at kick-offs and drop-out restarts, no player should be in front of the kicker, yet this occurs time and time again. There's a ref and two touch judges (okay, assistant refs); surely someone should be able to see this?
- Tattoos. Any player displaying tattoos should not be allowed to play, unless those tattoos are part of his culture (such as Maori players, Western Samoa players, etc.). Leave the tattoos to the soccer players.
- There must be a ten, but I can't think of it now.
It's a funny old game, though. During the first week-end of play, Italy showed that it had improved considerably during the years it has been part of the tournament, and beat France fairly and squarely in the process. Their second match was against Scotland and great things were expected of them, but they seemed to lose all of the shine of the week before and failed miserably, with the Scots giving them a fair trouncing.
By the way, did I mention that Wales won the Six Nations Championship last year, performing the Grand Slam in the process? I might have done so earlier on. Sadly, things got off to a bad start last week, when Wales lost to the Irish. At least they pulled their rugby socks up this week-end and beat France in Paris.
Sadly, Ireland then went to lose to the common enemy.
I ask you.
Still, as long as Wales beat England (and that probably won't happen this year, I have to admit), we'll be happy enough.