A few years ago Eddie Jones proposed an inter-change bench of 13 to redefine the game of union, to make it that non-stop affair that will give the spectator sustained intensity but also give them an 80-minute contest played at pace.
Mark Keohane writes for IOL, some Super 14 coaches say the dynamic of the game has not changed with the introduction of the experimental laws.
They are in the minority and are very fortunate to be coaching teams gifted with rugby players who could double as athletes.
Personally I don’t like the new laws, mainly because only a third of them have been introduced in this Super 14. We’ve been given a taste, but we haven’t been given the full box of chocolates.
Hence, any definitive view (which is why I won’t dismiss the experimentation as a waste of time) is premature because we are seeing a game that is attempting to combine elements of the old with something radical.
You don’t need the full package though to realise that if the changes find common ground in the northern and southern hemisphere you will have a different game that requires a different skills set and definitely more than 22 players in each match squad.
If the motivation is to keep the ball in play more, to speed up the pace of the game and to make it a spectator spectacle when it can be a few minutes before you take a breath, then 15 players can’t provide this spectacle.
When you dissect the opening fortnight of the Super 14 there has been enthusiasm and intent from most of the sides.
The Crusaders and the Blues have been the exception because they have just been brilliant. But they are not the rule in terms of how players have adapted to the changes.
The majority are trying things, but the players don’t have the fitness to match the good intention.
A few years ago the Cats, coached by Andre Markgraaff, played the Crusaders in New Zealand. Markgraaff felt that no one was prepared to take the champion Kiwi side on by consistently playing the short side.
His instruction to his team was to play the same side for anything from three to 10 phases. It provided a fascinating opening half when the Cats led by 30-odd points. But here’s the twist.
Former Springbok conditioning and fitness coach Chris van Loggerenberg was at that time involved with the Cats. When reflecting on that game he told me that the players knew 30 points was not enough.
They had nothing left in their legs because of the continuity of their first-half effort and for how long they kept the ball alive without a break. And they did not have the depth in reserves to carry it on. They weren’t conditioned to play that kind of game.
The Crusaders scored 50-plus points in the second half and the Cats lost by 20.
Conditioning in the Super 14 is everything this season and the better Kiwi and Aussie sides have stolen more than a yard in going for athleticism ahead of bulk.
They still have the physicality at the breakdown, but the greatest attack now comes in those last 20 minutes.
Which brings me back to the bench and former Wallabies coach and World Cup-winning Bok specialist coach Jones’s idea of a couple of years ago. Pick two teams as your match squad, said Jones, and then you have a game at pace.
The bench is the key to the new game. But seven blokes aren’t enough and the regulation around their introduction is too restrictive. The game, if it is to give one a sense of 80 minutes of skilled high intensity drama, needs an interchange bench and not reserves.
It would be radical, but then rather gives us a drastic change and not something that tries to appease the old and introduce the new.