Outgoing Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill has called for the “hit” to be scrapped in scrums, the experimental law variations to be revisited and a possible three-metre defensive line added to enliven the game.
Iain Payten – Foxsports
O’Neill, who is about to begin his last week as ARU chief executive after 14 years in the role, also says he is leaving the code with defence dominating attack at Test level, and with some “shambolic” laws in need of attention.Figures showing the time the ball was in play had plummeted to 32 minutes in The Rugby Championship, and try tallies falling, has O’Neill worried about rugby’s entertainment value.
“You’re in the entertainment business and with the freedom of choice you run the risk people will turn it off,” O’Neill said.
“We continue to see the two blights on the game are the absolute shambolic behaviour at the breakdown, where adherence to offside is lip service, and the scrum,” O’Neill said. “Whoever invented the hit in the scrum needs to be shot, because the hit causes the collapse.
“It wasn’t part of the game until the last 10 years that the engagement of front rows, like two bull elephants, charged at each other.”
Scrum resets continue to rob fans of action. Fifty per cent of scrums at Rugby World Cup 2011 had to be re-packed, and a study of the Tri Nations in 2009 showed scrums took up 25 per cent of the game.
“I personally think for player safety and welfare, we have to consider diminishing the hit or eliminating it, and having a managed scrum engagement. The referee sets the scrum – not rugby league style, still rugby style – he calls scrum, pushing begins and the hookers hook for the ball,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill said stricter policing of the breakdown is also required to encourage attack, or even pushing defences back.
“You’re supposed to stay behind the feet of the last man, you’re supposed to come through the gate and not from the side, and you’re supposed to stay on your feet,” O’Neill said.
“It means the breakdown is a lottery; it slows the ball down and creates too much time for defences to get set.
“Would it be too hard to police – and I don’t know the answer to this – at the breakdown, you are either in the contest, or you have to be three metres behind it?” The short-arm penalty option of the ELV era, voted down by the north, is also crucial.
“It was absolutely key to speeding up the game and increasing the time the ball would be in play. The short-arm was play on, tap kick, away you go,” O’Neill said. Referees also have to get on board with the mass-market goals of the national unions that employ them, believes O’Neill.
“It is one of my pet peeves that the referees don’t see themselves as part of the game. They have to see themselves as part of the entertainment package, and they have to understand who they work for,” O’Neill said