UK rugby journalist Stephen Jones is well known for his controversial takes on the modern game, and his latest remarks are no different.
In a column for The Sunday Times, Jones took aim at World Rugby for being “asleep at the wheel” as he believes the sport has become a “tedious kick-fest.” He also suggested that stadiums introduce dispensers both for hand sanitiser, but also for spectators who need “the best embrocation for pains in the neck.”
Jones also took to Twitter on Sunday to express his frustrations further, seemingly demanding that World Rugby meet this week to discuss the “miserably bad” state of the game.
World Rugby must meet this week. Test rugby has become a Desperate arena of cannonade kicking dull mini rucks and skill free ‘attacking’. Miserably bad
— Stephen Jones (@stephenjones9) November 29, 2020
In Jones column, he wrote that the code can no longer be considered a display of ball handling and skill, as it has become ‘ghastly aerial ping-pong’ where ‘no one can be bothered’ to take the ball through phases.
“What was once known as the handling code has become a ghastly aerial ping-pong, and the strain on the neck muscles of followers as they crane to follow the ball has become intense,” he wrote
“There was a time when teams went through endless phases, which was not exactly easy on the eye either, but now no one can be bothered to take the ball through many phases at all.’’
Following weeks of test matches dominated by kicking in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, it’d be hard to argue that Jones’ comments don’t have any merit.
Kicking dominated Saturday’s test between Wales and England, which left fans frustrated and bored. Instead, playing without the ball seems to be a go-to option for most teams.
While the All Blacks and the Wallabies kick plenty of ball away as they fight to win the territory battle, Argentina are arguably the best example of playing without the ball. While kicking often isn’t new to the Pumas style of play, it’s clearly beginning to work as rugby continues to evolve.
After the All Blacks historic loss to the Pumas in Sydney, and in the leadup to the Wallabies match against Argentina in Newcastle, coach Dave Rennie said that the “Pumas are happy to play without the ball.”
He added that “they really dominated the kicking stats last week, which was surprising, so the All Blacks held on to a lot of ball and made errors and got punished.”
Even take the ‘rematch’ between the All Blacks and Pumas in Newcastle last weekend where the men in black kicked to earn the right to attack. Playmakers Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett were constantly putting chip kicks in-behind their opponents defence, contestable bombs, or simply just trying to relieve pressure.
It’s then unsurprising to see rugby fans side with Jones, with many offering up solutions on how to fix the 15-man code.
Kane Palma-Newport, who is an English player playing in France’s Pro D2 for US Colomiers, suggested two changes that would “make people contest more” which would then create “more space elsewhere.” Another fan also suggested that fewer substitutes might be the answer.
Two ways to change rugby for the better;
When a team knocks on, they have to allow the other team to get it and play it. They can’t kill it.
Rule two, if teams don’t compete at the line outs, the throw can be not straight! Make people contest more. More space else where.
— Kane Palma-Newport (@kanokano123) November 29, 2020
The stat that the teams who kicks the most, win the most was the saddest I’d ever heard.
— Paul Clifton Photography (@paul_clifton) November 29, 2020
Fewer subs. Attrition used to be part of the game, especially upfront. Worked to dominate opponent and then enjoy the spoils. Now he subbed off. Also fewer subs/more attrition would change the power/skill balance, reduce impact of hits and improve player welfare. My two cents.
— pat younge (@tcmbigcheese) November 29, 2020
Also players must bind when joining ruck. No “torpedoes” at ruck and penalise anyone taking out players beyond the breakdown.
— Ian Wilson (@wilsoib) November 29, 2020
1. 5 replacements : 3 front row plus any two others
2. Box kicking in 22 only
3. Remove reverence given to jackals by making would be jackaler take one step beyond the ball before being allowed to handle it.
4. Stop clock as soon as scrum is awarded, restart on ‘Set’.
— huw lewis (@huwlewis2) November 29, 2020
Treat kicks to touch from a pen as a free kick rather than a way to march up the field.
Make sure referees understand it’s only a penalty if the player on the deck is holding on, not that the jackaler is just lying on top of it
22 dropout instead of scrum 5
D mark anywhere
— Ged Hall (@GedHall5) November 29, 2020
Tackled player must release the ball immeadiately. No jackling. Must drive the opposition off the ball
— GavinAllinson (@GavinAllinson) November 29, 2020
Referees applying the laws of the game correctly, stop the clock prior to a scrum being set, end the caterpillar ruck, box kicks only in your own 22. Real basic elements without major tinkering as starters for ten.
— Matthew Driver (@matthewdriver07) November 29, 2020
The only way is to get rid of the rush defence. Not sure how that is going to happen though unless they make the offside line a couple of metres behind the ruck. But that would be hard to police too.
— Scotty P (@ScottyP6849) November 29, 2020
What about every kick in open play (ie. not free kicks or pens) from outside your 22 that lands in the opposition’s half can be marked?
— Craig OD (@craig_od) November 29, 2020
Really not enjoying watching test rugby as are a load of friends. Few ideas stop bringing on’ finishers’ not helping at all, if catching the ball from a kick in your own half the mark rules are in place, 10m offside rule from scrums or lineouts anytime.
— Gareth Wynne- Morgan (@GarethMorgan18) November 29, 2020
Ban box kicking from rucks, unless within the 22. Better reffing of Rucks to make them more competitive – players are constantly sealing off and coming in at the side to protect own ball & its not often picked up.
— Paul Shipton (@Shippo17) November 29, 2020
They need to clamp down on the 5 second rule at ruck time,ban the caterpillar ruck as it’s basically obstruction and limit kicking to say 4 kicks per half for each team,therefore making them play the rest of the half when they have used their kicks up!!#ActNowIRB
— Michael Scott (@michael79109584) November 29, 2020
If any change comes from Jones’ Tweet or the reaction that followed is a waiting game, but the facts of it don’t lie in saying that there’s definitely some merit in looking into it.
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