Former England utility back Austin Healey believes over-use of the box kick will be the death of rugby, that fans won’t bother returning to matches in the UK when they are eventually permitted to do so after the pandemic subsides. 

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Capped on 57 occasions by his country and the Lions, the ex-Leicester Tigers has questioned the inclusion of players such as Jonny May and Anthony Watson in Eddie Jones’ England team if the only type of possession they can aspire to is trying to win possession in the air.  

Healey watched England win the 2020 Six Nations title last weekend and wondered just where the entertainment was given the over-zealous first-half tactic of putting boot to ball against the Italians in Rome.

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Writing in his Daily Telegraph column, Healey claimed: “The box kick is the death of rugby union. England did it three times in a row after winning the first kick-off against Italy. How boring is that? 

“The stats told them Matteo Minozzi is not the biggest full-back in the world so let’s put loads of kicks on him. Great, that’s entertaining, waiting to watch someone fail. The last thing we want to do when we get crowds back is endlessly box kick.

“Eddie Jones might counter that by saying England won the Six Nations and that’s what matters, to which I would respond, ‘It’s boring’. Jonny May and Anthony Watson out on the wings – what is the point in them playing there if all you do is chase box kicks and never touch the ball in attacking situations? If England kick less against Italy they win by an extra 20 points.”

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To his credit, Healey didn’t just criticise the over-prevalence of the tactic. He also offered a change to dilute its use. “My solution would be – at each ruck, if you can see the ball, then it is available and from that moment teams have five seconds to play it. That would stop box kicking.

“Either ban them entirely or enforce that you only get five seconds at the back of each ruck. There is no situation where a box kick in the middle of the field is entertaining, even if teams are playing in horrendous wet weather. 

“Box kicking from your own 22, I completely understand. From outside your 22? Play some rugby and stop d***ing about. Stop playing the risk percentages and play the game.

“I do not know what genius thought it would make for good entertainment for two teams to just endlessly box kick to one another, but if you’re in the stands having paid £20 to watch that on a Friday night, all you want to do is go home.”

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