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A 5 Point Manifesto For Improving The Spectacle Of Rugby

There’s quite simply no doubting the fact that rugby is the greatest game on earth. As Mark so eloquently puts it, if God hadn’t invented in, then we would have had to invent it ourselves.

That being said, the sport seems to have somewhat forgotten that, at the top level at least, rugby is meant as a form of entertainment. Unfortunately, what we are seeing more and more is that ball in play time is dropping at an alarming rate, and casual fans are rapidly losing interest.

That’s not to say rugby needs a total overhaul, and there are no doubt plenty of purists out there happy to wait 90 seconds for a kick to be taken, or spend three minutes watching scrums reset, but if rugby is to ever grow into the sport it could be then a few things need to change.

It is a game like no other on the planet, and therefore has the potential to really take hold not just in traditional rugby playing nations, but in countries like Japan, Canada, Germany and the USA. What has to change however is the entertainment value from top level rugby. So here is my five points manifesto to help broaden the sports appeal;

1. Shot Clock

Nobody pays for their TV subscription or rugby ticket to watch fly halves waste a minute and a half every time they want to take a kick. From slowing things down to have a drink, to some of the ridiculous pre-kick dance routines, this nonsense needs to stop. Instead, we need to introduce a 30 second shot clock that starts as soon as a try is scored, or a penalty is awarded.

That means that from the moment a kick is confirmed, the team has 30 seconds to get a tee on the field, line it up and put boot to ball. This will help to significantly reduce the amount of time wasted with kick routines, and help maintain intensity in a game, whilst increasing ball in play time which is what fans ultimately want to see.

2. Up The Entertainment

I’m sure there will be plenty of stick for this, but one thing American sports do incredibly well is provide a full afternoon of entertainment. From marching bands to flyovers and everything in between, sports in America do a fantastic job of entertaining fans from the moment they arrive at a stadium to the moment they leave.

Whilst not all forms of entertainment necessarily need to be brought over the Atlantic, there is plenty we can take from the incredible growth of the NFL over the last 10 years or so. Whilst the game itself may be quite stop start, they take every opportunity to keep the crowd entertained and the noise levels up which creates a much more entertaining spectacle.

3. Law Amendments

A few simple law amendments have the potential to really help increase the entertainment value of rugby;

  • Firstly, conceding a turnover from a maul because the opposition just flopped on the ball is an absolute killer. Not only does it cause a stoppage in play, but it also means another couple of minutes are wasted setting and resetting scrums. Therefore lets just remove the law altogether and treat it like any other breakdown.
  • Secondly, and perhaps most controversially, let's change the knock-on/forward pass rules. Whilst we can’t suddenly turn into American Football and allow the ball to be flung forwards, allowing play to continue when a ball is dropped, or a pass is so marginally forward that it requires a TMO intervention should be ignored. Once again, it is a facet of the game that results in a scrum having to be set and therefore more time is wasted. When there is no real advantage gained by the ball moving forward then let things just play out as continuing play when a ball is dropped may actually help to create some exciting attacking scenarios.
  • Thirdly, let's award the attacking team when they make it into the opposition 5m line. Far too often we see tries ruled out because the defending team drops on the ball so nobody can see if it has been grounded or not. Frankly, if a team has made it close enough to the line that a try could have been scored then that endeavour should be rewarded unless the ball is clearly short, or has been held up.

4. Improve The Stash

Let’s face it, we’re not exactly in a golden era of stash for rugby teams. Unfortunately the likes of Nike and Adidas have a very limited presence in top flight rugby, whilst some of the more traditional rugby brands out there seem to have somewhat gone off the boil. Although it may not seem like a significant issue, producing some more desirable kits and rugby leisurewear would go a long way towards helping to attract more casual fans and improve teams finances.

If you’re anything like me then you’re probably sick of the inconsistencies in sizing from team to team, and the quality of some (not all) of the stash out there right now. Attracting more ‘premium’ brands would likely help to improve this significantly, although it would be great to see some more traditional rugby brands make a real name for themselves so we don’t end up wearing kits designed for football players that doesn’t fit.

5. Speed Up The Set Piece

As you may have already noticed, a lot of these suggestions are around speeding up the game. This is because increasing the pace of games would have a twofold effect; firstly it would help to increase the ball in play time so fans get more value, and secondly it will help to tire out teams, thereby creating gaps in defences for more entertaining moments. That is why the final area to focus on is the set piece.

Now before we go on, I must make it clear; the scrum and the line out are sacred in rugby union, and must therefore remain a core part of the game going forward. That being said, what’s to stop the shot clock being applied to scrums and lineouts. Whilst the two sides don’t necessarily need to be engaged within 30 seconds, they should at least be lined up so that play can resume in a safe manner. 

And finally, rather than endless resets, a free kick should be awarded to either the attacking team, or against the team that has infringed or failed to use the ball when it is clearly available during the first set. In this way, teams are encouraged to use it asap, and there is no penalty awarded for collapses, so there is less incentive to do so. This should help to speed the process up considerably.

What changes would you make to improve rugby as a spectacle?