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Gilpin: 'Making the game better isn't safety versus spectacle'

By Ian Cameron
Ireland's James Lowe dives in the corner against France- PA

World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin believes increasing the safety of the game is not at odds with increasing its entertainment value – and that both can be mutually inclusive rather exclusive.


The governing body recently held a ‘Shape of the Game’ conference – the second meeting of its kind aimed at improving the sport that they’ve hosted in the space of five months.

The inaugural meeting took place in London in November 2022 and resulted in new directives aimed at enhancing the speed and flow of the game, changes which have already seen an increase in ball in play in the elite game.

The sequel challenged leading figures in the sport – including players, coaches, match officials, medics, competition owners and fan-engagement experts – to think long-term as rugby looks to grow its audience share over the next decade on the road to Rugby World Cups in the USA.

“There’s a constant discussion about making the game better,” Gilpin told RugbyPass. “By ‘better’ we talk about safety and spectacle; spectacle being actually watching the game.

“Making the game better isn’t safety versus spectacle. We want to dial both up at the same time, and that has been the focus going forward.

“And it’s not just spectacle. It’s better for people watching, but it’s also better for people playing. It’s a broader topic than it was.


Shape of the Game II also considered feedback from leading social and digital platform providers, the wider entertainment industry, broadcasters and fans focusing on how to make the sport more accessible and understandable while emerging technology was explored from an officiating and welfare perspective.

“The fans who aren’t avid rugby fans, what barriers are there to them enjoying the game? We’re in an attention economy. We’re fighting for people’s attention, their time, their spend as fans. We’ve got to a game that captures the imagination more and more often, to do that.

“We’re trying to grow the game by making it more accessible, more relevant for more people. That played into the definition of the Shape of the Game.

“We had a first workshop that involved really broad stakeholders last November and got them in their respective groups: players, match officials, the unions through their CEOs. We focused on what are things in the short term we can change; short-term, because we have a moratorium on Law change in the year leading into a men’s World Cup.


“What used to be a four-year Law review cycle, we’ve all now agree that Law change is a constant evolution, not a four-year cycle.

“With the moratorium in mind, what are the short-term things we could do?  The more recent workshop has been focused on the long-term things, beyond 2023, that we can do in terms of safety, spectacle and a better game to play.

“The short-term piece was focussed on the Law guidelines and Law directives; Shot clocks, speeding up certain aspects of play, match officials taking a slightly different stance on a certain area, scrum resets and so on.

“What we’ve seen in, albeit with Super Rugby just three rounds in, average ball in play time has increased; ball in flow – if we can call it that – up; scrum resets down. The Ireland-France game is quite rightly being held out as an example with 46 minutes of ball in play time, which I understand is the longest in Test rugby for five years.

“So those short terms are starting to work. How do we build on them in the longer term? Most of those things play into one simple fact: that the dead time in the game, whether you are playing it or watching it, makes it less enjoyable.

“Rugby as a sport is one that has a lot of moments where there is dead time. If that’s 90 seconds while someone is lining a conversion up, scrum resets or the lineout formation and the discussions that go on around it. The more we reduce that, the more the game is flowing, it’s more enjoyable to play and certainly more enjoyable to watch.”

World Rugby will take away the considerations and insights for further exploration and prioritise areas that can be implemented in the short term without changing law, while bringing longer-term actions through to the next law review cycle.

Participants (all representatives from World Rugby’s Professional Game, Women’s, Community and Professional Leagues Committees): International Rugby Players, International Rugby Match Officials, National Unions, Six Nations, SANZAAR, EPCR, URC, Premiership Rugby, LNR.


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