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The Otago Daily Times published an article earlier this week about the state of rugby and the way the game is played.
It highlighted how structured the game is, how defence is well ahead of attack and how the game is dominated by big men, who stand in the middle of the field and knock each other over.
Former All Black and All Black assistant coach Earle Kirton also said he found the game boring and worried about the future as so few youngsters were playing.
Plenty of readers chimed in with their views about the way rugby has been led down a path far away from what used to be played.
They say the only thing certain in life is change but many readers are not comfortable with the changes seen on the rugby paddock in the last 25 years or so.
Peter Becker said the changes have been happening quietly for a longer time than most realise.
"When my youngest son was playing over 25 years ago, the question we would ask him after a game was, ‘Did you score any tries?"’
My father had always asked the same question of us when we played in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, as that was what all players strove to do when playing? Score tries! My son seemed surprised by the question and replied thus, ‘No, but did you see the big hits I did on so and so?"’ Becker said.
"Defence was already the main thought that kids took to the game, and ‘big hits' mattered, not who scored tries."
Dunedin reader Murray Davidson said he went to Forsyth Barr Stadium with his son and grandson.
"They must get tired of me bemoaning the same old things each game — players in front of the kickoff, borderline offside in the midfield as backs try to make some progress (are all assistant referees biased in their officiating?), aimless kicking, and as for scrums!" he said.
"Rugby was for a long time recognised as the sport that had a place for all sizes and body types. Where would the likes of Terry Wright and Rex Smith fit in today’s game? That is no longer the case. The traditions of the game have been eroded by the professional era."
Another reader, Brian Snell, suggested perhaps the game should have two versions.
"Let the big boys play ‘Super Rugby’ and let the world of the normal average-sized humans play Real Rugby,’ he said.
"Bring back some of the old rules for Real Rugby and get our backs scoring tries once again, and especially get those backlines standing back at least 10m and not right up the No8’s backside."
Brett Burgess raised the point of how good the game was in the 1990s.
"During lockdown Sky played games from the ’90s. My kids, who are rugbyheads, were absolutely fascinated by the speed and open running rugby. The accuracy wasn't of today's standard, but who cares — it was exciting watch," he said.
There was a common theme to most complaints: the game is becoming like rugby league, the rolling maul is universally hated, as is the use of so many reserves. The size of players was questioned, as was the breakdown and too many penalties in any game.
Then there were those who simply no longer watched the game. Or if they did it was nowhere as often as they used to.
There was one voice who felt the game was nowhere near as bad as many think.
Owen Martin, of Timaru, said the game would change but looking back at one good game from years ago was not a true indication of rugby back then. He considered the rolling maul and power scrum an art form.
"The biggest thing I hear from the old guard is ‘the game’s gone soft’. Very few of the old guard played as many games with men the size of what they are now, the speed at which they travel and the power which they can hit," he said.
"Players needed to be protected as much as they can without losing the purity of the sport. Personally I think a game where you can smash someone as hard as you can, but try and wrap the arms and keep away from the head is a perfectly acceptable situation."
The biggest worry for many was voiced by those who said their children or grandchildren simply no longer played or had any interest in the game.
Player numbers appear to have remained steady, according to New Zealand Rugby, though in a few key areas they have declined
Sport and rugby, though, is like life. Everything evolves and changes. At the moment it has evolved into something many do not like.
But those at the top will point to record viewership at the last World Cup and record uptake of the game worldwide. New rules are trialled every four years and most never get past first base. There appears no hint of revolution in the ranks of World Rugby.
One thing about rugby which has not changed is going backwards never worked — on or off the field. Unfortunately for those of us who long for the game from a generation or more ago, that game has been well and truly kicked into touch.
- I don’t watch all that much rugby anymore. Ten years ago I used to try and watch every game I could. It’s not the spectacle it was now that it’s more crash and bash.
- There are so many nit-picking and quite opaque reasons for conceding a penalty in what we used to call a loose scrum that forwards no longer dare go near a scrum or maul. Massive forwards instead fan out across the pitch to have boring collisions with other massive forwards.
- I’ve tuned out of rugby for all the reasons that the article highlights. And a few more, including the water breaks, the fact that it's not a space game any more but a power/weight game, that music plays during test games because something has to entertain, the constant rule changes . . . but mostly, because rugby is boring.
- The key for me is to get rid of substitutions, so as to return to the days of mobility and fitness that could make a team crack in the last 20 minutes.
- The game has become very gladiatorial with big, strong players running into opposition players rather than using pace, skill and guile to elude their opponents.
- The rules around the breakdown and setting of scrums just slow down the action and I lose interest.
- Too much aimless box kicking, marginally “onside” defensive line-speed, marginally “onside” rolling mauls from lineouts, etc, etc.
- One of my main concerns are rolling mauls. A suggestion is they only be allowed between the 22m lines.
- Turned off the Auckland-Wellington game after watching endless scrum penalties. Don't get me started on rolling mauls from the lineout — how can the guys without the ball and in front of the ball be onside in a maul. It’s got me puzzled.
- Maybe there is a need to create a new sport which would resemble the rugby of old.
- Let the big boys play “Super Rugby” and let the world of the normal average-sized humans play “Real Rugby”.
- That’s a very pessimistic view of today’s rugby. A good rolling maul is an art form. Six to eight men performing in perfect unison which has taken hours and hours on the training field to perfect. Go watch a poor club game on a mud bath from the ’70s that’s been lost to the doledrums because of its crapiness.
- I'm not sure if rugby will survive in NZ if the grassroots are not looked after and rules are changed. I believe some rule changes over the years have benefited the game but of late it is getting more like rugby league than rugby. It’s time some of the power of IRB is redistributed to southern hemisphere teams in order to better co-ordinate the rules for the benefit of all.
- Rugby is boring as now. I don’t care if I miss an All Black test nowadays. Rugby was great in the ’90s when the ball got spun through the backline.
- If rugby wants to survive then open up play. No box kicks. Defenders at mauls must be back 5m. Get rid of line dropout.
- I have 11 grandchildren, a mixture of girls & boys, and even though all their fathers played rugby, I think only one 8-year-old still plays? The rest have all given the game away!
- A group, including former All Blacks and club players, has started a campaign around the impact of the professional game on the amateur game. The group, led by Wellington businessman Doug Catley, is asking for thoughts to be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org