Former Wallaby skipper James Horwill has warned proposed law changes aimed at driving the “jackal” out of the sport could fundamentally alter rugby union.
While the Harlequins lock understands the need to protect players who are aggressively removed from the breakdown as the try to steal the ball with their hands, he believes the sport must continue to allow a contest for possession or lose one of its fundamental principles.
Increasing injuries to ball stealing “jackals” like Australia’s David Pocock, who has a lingering neck problem caused by heavy hits he takes while in an exposed position at the break down, is forcing World Rugby to look a significant law changes. Law amendments, if any, will only be trialled after this year’s World Cup in Japan and World Rugby insist their moves are designed to commit more players to the ruck to create more space rather than killing off the jackal.
By changing the rules to stop the ball being played by the hand in the breakdown, the contest would return to the days of rucking where players try to drive over the ball after a tackle.
Ironically, old style rucking suffered a similar fate due to the negative publicity created by boots on bodies. However, creating a pushing contest rather than a ball stealing battle by clamping hands on possession and then waiting for the referee’s verdict, is seen as one way of avoiding injury at the breakdown.
Continue reading below…
Horwill, who will be in the Quins second row for their European Challenge Cup quarter-final at Worcester on Saturday, said: “We need to be careful because the competition part of rugby union makes it unique compared to other sports.
“It is a difficult and I don’t think getting rid of the jackal all together is the right move. We would go too far away from what the game is, but I can understand why they are looking at it in terms of player welfare and injuries. Hopefully, that is the reasoning for doing this and not for other reasons.
“If you look at rugby league, then it is not a competition for everything. In union the line out, scrum, ruck and maul all involve competition for the ball and we don’t want to take that out of the sport too much because it makes union great. Yes, there are a lot of injuries coming from that jackal position and teams are going away from that and keeping defenders on their feet and numbers in the defensive line.”
Quins are currently fourth in the Gallagher Premiership and Horwill is confident the club can reach the Challenge Cup final and also make the Premiership play offs. “We have put ourselves in a position where we are in the mix for two bits of silverware ( Premiership title and Europen Challenge Cup) and we need to show more consistency which is something you saw in our performance against Saracens. We did some really good things and played well and stuck to the game plan in the first half and then went away from it in the second. If we can do that we can beat almost anyone.
“It is important to make the most of these opportunities because in sport they are not gifted to you. There are not many times where you can say that with give games in the Premiership to go we are in with a chance of making the play off finals and also be two games away from being in a European final. We have given ourselves these opportunities and it’s now about making the most of them and win silverware.”
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.