Make Rugby Pitches Bigger Now!
Many commentators on rugby have been agonising over their pints about this for decades. And the admirable but plodding blindside flanker that is poor old Eddie Butler misses the wood for the trees again.
He bemoans how the game is being stifled into physical uniformity at the expense of traditional skills and diversity, and a monstrous injury toll created by massive dependence on the contact game and upper body power. He arrives at the conclusion:
Teams that are thinking space before contact – Harlequins, Bath, London Irish – are prospering. Newcastle, incidentally, are as open-minded as any of those, but Jonny, who had to be physically removed from rucks by his own England team-mates in 2003, is injured again.”
The extra width would make a significant difference, and exploit the new fitness of players with their fixed reaction times to create a sport in which the incentive is to pass, not go to ground, and our star players would play a bit more often, and wings could still be small and locks enormous, and everything in between. Shane Williams would double his try-count.
And ultimately, if the professional game continues to obey its own natural laws, the decision to accomodate its needs will become overriding – and profitable. ‘Big Rugby‘ sold on its liberating non-secret ingredient would literally be a ‘game-changer’.
Bigger pitches are the future of rugby. What is the cost of player safety?
Law 1.2 Required dimensions for the playing enclosure
(a) Dimensions. The field of play does not exceed 100 metres in length. Each in-goal does not exceed 22 metres in length. The playing area does not exceed 70 metres in width.
To be amended for elite level to:
1.2 Required dimensions for the playing enclosure
(a) Dimensions. The minimum field of play 100 metres in length.
Each in-goal does not exceed 22 metres in length.
The minimum width 80 metres.
The result will be fewer injuries, easier refereeing and more clarity and simplicity in a game becoming a legal monster, more incentive to pass, less incentive to bulk up – with all the drug abuse that implies..etc etc.. All good, nothing bad.
Alan Watkins, poet of rugby commentators, once demanded with pride:
But players have continued to grow and speed up, and little has been heard of Watkins’ plea for space. Or of the research undertaken into pitch sizes by Dick Best during the early stages of professionalisation.
However much more spectacular and bone-crunching professional rugby may be, it must be remembered that the 15-man game was never designed to be a professional sport, with all the possible mercenary problems. It is surely time that modern elite players were allowed the same room to express themselves they were when the size and physique of the average player would be dwarfed now by any self-respecting schoolboy team.
October 10, 2008
(Evidence that the effect of pitch width is widely recognised within the sport at the highest level.)
Strategic pitch-narrowing to choke play must have been standard practice for years, whatever the cost in spectacle and cartilege. It therefore follows that widening the pitch would have the opposite effect, and that as players get even larger and faster and nastier, and the differences between traditional positions disappear, the question of play space becomes even more urgent, and the price paid for the hidebound attitude to the size of the pitch even greater in human terms, and to the sport as a spectacle.
When many games are now decided by almost random decisions taken by hopeful referees about unseen activities at the bottom of rucks and mauls, that sport is in trouble. Commentators and spectators are left bemused at both the decisions and the laws which dictate that players are penalised for not taking actions which are physically impossible (rolling away from a tackle when under a pile of players) or are rewarded for taking actions which are completely unintuitive (not competing for a ball on the ground when arriving first at the breakdown). An extra incentive to move the ball wide and free would begin to undo some of this insanity and preserve some of the essential diversity of the game, which is now being flattened to cater for the ever-increasing need for sheer firepower.
When the injury list becomes gladiatorial, the sport is in even deeper trouble. The glories of the 2015 world cup may never be enjoyed as unconditionally again. In the back of the mind of every watching parent may be the fear of seeing a player very seriously injured on live TV. This audience may well be partly replaced by the kind of ghouls who frequent cage-fights. But then rugby will be as dead as boxing.