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A move back to attacking rugby?

The rule tweak that could change rugby

By Chris Rattue View as one page 4:00 AM Monday Jan 25, 2010 / NZ Herald

The tackler must now get their hands off the ball and the ball carrier before jumping to their feet to dispute possession. Photo / Getty ImagesA new season, a new rule and, believe it or not, some hope. There may be new life in dear old rugby yet …

First, the bad news. Rugby rules are made to be broken. A game that was, mythically speaking, invented by breaking the most important rule of another sport has never broken the habit of a lifetime. Cheating and rugby go hand in hand, like Colin Meads and a bloody heavy fencepost.

The 2010 rugby season, which kicked off at the weekend with Super 14 trial matches, has unveiled yet another vital rule change, this one involving the tackle area. As it turns out, what we will get is a new interpretation of the old rule, the old interpretation having been – according to a leading referee – incorrect anyway.

Under the new Sanzar dictate, the player in possession will be given a much-needed advantage, because the tackler must now get his filthy hands off the ball and the ball carrier before jumping to his feet to dispute possession.

Which sounds hunky-dory. But experience should tell us to hang fire with the over-enthusiasm.

Coaches and defenders will not take this lying down, rest assured. The schemers will be working out ways to combat this already. The very people who may trumpet this rule will also beat it into submission.

Furthermore, should the change lead to a better game (and goodness knows rugby needs a change for the better) our friends in the north – as in the Northern Hemisphere – will be filled with a suspicion matched only by their cynicism. More open and attack-orientated rugby can only lead to one thing – the south dominating the north, and of a Southern Hemisphere team winning the World Cup.

The inference is that the new interpretation will filter into the European game, but let’s wait and see on that one.

And as sure as Stuart Dickinson didn’t send Paddy O’Brien a Christmas card, different referees will interpret the new interpretation in different ways. There will be inevitable arguments – during and after matches – about whether penalties were fairly given, whether defenders had broken contact with the attackers or not.

By the standards of rugby rule revisions, which are normally instigated at an intoxicated snail’s pace, any change this close to the 2011 World Cup invites chaos and rancour at the global tournament.

And finally, the game is so complicated and unruly that only a few can master a beast that is beyond saving. All Sanzar has done is give the handrails a quick polish on the Titanic.

Which is an awful lot of bad news.