Rugby – where to from here?

As human attention spans shrink and T20 cricket bolsters interest in a struggling sport, Tank ponders the future of rugby in his Sport24 column, a sport the big man believes to be in some semblance of crisis.

Tank Lanning

I came upon a report called “The future of rugby” on the weekend …

Now given the state of the game at the moment, I could not wait to get my grubby paws on it, really hoping for a few genie out the bottle type revelations …

Twenty five pages – which included a fair amount of repetition – later, and boom … The future of rugby is the current seven a side series, but moved to summer, ignited by its Olympic inclusion.


Now do not get me wrong, I love me a little couch denting time on a Sunday evening while watching the Blitzboks trying to keep the Fijians and All Blacks taking at bay.

But this report was commissioned by HSBC, current sponsors of the Sevens series, so let’s make that the first sprinkling of salt …

It’s also based on four other major premises – the shortening human attention span, the growth of T20 cricket and how that has spiked interest in a struggling sport, the fact that it is played in many more countries than the 15 a side version, and that it is a simple sport.

Fair enough …

Problem one, though – T20 cricket is replacing or propping up versions of the sport that take either 5 days (Tests) or close on 9 hours (ODIs) to complete. A game of rugby of rugby takes 90 minutes to complete.

Problem two – A game of T20 cricket takes 3 hours to complete, a lot longer than a current game of rugby.

Problem three – A game of T20 cricket is an entity in itself, while at 15 minutes, a single game of seven a side rugby cannot be deemed an entity, and thus has to be played in a festival type format that currently lasts either 2 or 3 days.

So that kind of blows the shortening attention span and T20 theories out the water a bit. That Sevens is played in many more countries does speak to potential new audiences, but it’s also an Olympic requirement. And let’s not forget that basketball and American Football have “World series” events in one country, albeit a flipping massive one!

Simple it is, though, and that is where 15’s can definitely learn from it’s abbreviated cousin.

When last did the powers that be remove a law?

Yet how happy are they to add either new laws (or interpretations of existing laws) each year?

The scrums and breakdown are worse than a bulldog eating porridge. Almost every penalty awarded these days could have gone the other way had another referee been blowing the game.

Is it really such a train smash if a prop puts his hand on the ground to stabilise a scrum? And will the sun not come up the next day if the front row stand up? And why not bring back rucking while allowing anyone to play the ball at the break down, be it a tackle, maul or ruck, as long as they join from an onside position?

Sure, a lot of the new laws are to do with player safety, but are they not based on an old style game and less conditioned players?

What Sevens does have is space on the field – oodles of it. Yet it has no space at all for a flat eared baobab tree type fellow earning a right shoulder in the scrum. Rugby is, and should remain, a game for all shapes and sizes. Sevens is not.

So let’s learn. The future of rugby is the creation of more space on the field, and breaking down of the “Walls of science” that are the modern day defences. Less laws so as to get teams committing more players to the breakdown and set phases for longer.

The future of rugby is not Sevens. That’s disrespectful to the abbreviated game, which actually has the ability to become it’s own sport.

But prior to that, both formats working hand in hand to produce better skilled and conditioned players (two other areas where 7s smokes 15s), a simplified 15’s game that gives players more space to play in, is where it’s at.

Sevens as a summer sport? Now that has potential. Until the Europeans move their 15’s season to summer in order to create one global rugby season, that is! No one said it would be easy …

One Comment

  1. Very interesting thank you tank.

    Perhaps one thing to speed up the game is allow more advantage and let game flow, instead of calling a scrum for every little niggle.

    Also maybe if the TV ref cant make the try no try call with in 3 looks, let the guy kick for poles and continue with the game, and then TV ref can review in back ground with out holding up game. Once play stop again for set peice he can quickly communicate the out come to on field ref, adjust the score board accordingly and continue.
    This way teams will have to keep playing as if they need to win, because they dont know if the try will stand or not.

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