2 Oct

Anyone for Tiddlywinks?
by Paul Waite
2 Oct 2007

Tana Umaga, who gave voice to that legendary remark "we’re
not playing tiddlywinks" after being pinged for a dangerous tackle by Australian ref Peter Marshall in
2003, is probably of a mind with us on this one.

The current clampdown at the Rugby World Cup is taking the game into dangerous waters.

Already we have players who are currently rugby icons voicing concerns over it. There is a great article by Grant Fox over on RugbyHeaven which cites Jerry Collins as saying he hopes that the game doesn’t become sanitised to the point he no longer wants to play it. That would be a sad indictment.

In the same article Fox reports that Samoan coach and All Black great Michael Jones is saying the current trend is legislating the physical tackling style of his Samoan players out of the game, a style lauded and loved by every rugby fan world-wide since the 1991 World Cup. Jones further adds "if this keeps up, I’ll tell my son to play rugby league". As Fox says, anyone who knows Michael would take his comments seriously; he isn’t one to give voice to such a strong opinion lightly.

At this World Cup we have seen things being taken to ridiculous extremes, given that rugby is a full contact sport which has, at its roots, a "warrior mentality". Players at a ruck are no longer even permitted to so much as rest a foot on a supine opposition player’s body, without being penalised for "using the feet in an inappropriate manner".

First of all they emasculate the game by legislating against genuine rucking (to the great detriment of the ruck itself) now they want to sanitize it still further. Surely it’s all a cruel joke. We’re already seeing the fruits of this. In the Argentina vs. Ireland test Geordan Murphy milked an easy penalty for a supposed obstruction by falling as if pole-axed. We will see more of this as the clampdown bites. Instead of being honestly physical the game will become like soccer – a play-acting competition for the referee’s whistle.

It isn’t clear either, who or what is really behind this misguided drive toward a supposed nirvana of a rugby purged clean of anything remotely resembling aggressive contact or interaction between players.

Who decided it needed to be done, and why? How come the main stake-holders in all of this – the fans themselves weren’t canvassed? Is it the moguls who control the purse-strings of the game who are behind it? Or is it just the IRB with a bee buzzing around up it’s stupid collective jacksie?

I have no idea of the answer to any of these questions. The tenet "if it aint broke, don’t fix it" comes to mind. That one, and the more famous (if a little less focussed) "fuck off".

Do I seem a bit over-wrought and frustrated?

Well blame it on seeing a bunch of morons who should know better, seemingly bent on destroying the ethos and qualities of a game I love and, like many, many fans around the World, have a huge emotional stake in.

I get the feeling that this might be related to ownership. In the days of yore (pre-1995) the game was, by and large, "owned" by you and me, Joe and Joanna Public, and the players. We created it from humble beginnings, forned teams and Unions, forged the likes of the All Blacks, the Silver Fern, The Lions, built the grounds up from simple paddocks to large stadia, and we loved it. Players played it, we watched them, it was uncomplicated.

Then, in 1995, without any of us realising it the "ownership" was somehow transferred out of our hands, and slipped discreetly into the hands of the moguls. Not a bad deal eh – ordinary folks do all the hard yakka for 100 years, and create a massive tradition, then they get it all handed to them on a plate. Anyway, what we’ve seen since then is a succession of changes to the game, most of which strangely enough, have been to suit the needs of TV and other revenue streams. Like the removal of all NZ tests to the bitterly cold damp nights, forcing us to become the vampires of the rugby World, never to play a test in daylight ever again, so that Poms can watch our team (and the ads) over their cornflakes. Like the stupid designer jerseys which change every year so that the apparel sponsor can turn more of them over, never mind if they subvert the traditions of a national jersey.

Then there are the laws of the game.

There has been a constant pressure to simplify and speed the game up, and produce more compelling rugby for the neutral and inexpert punter, that being the goal of TV so it can attract more viewers to ‘the product’ world-wide.

Possibly the latest sanitization moves have come as a result of this kind of pressure from the heavyweight moguls now controlling the game through money. I can easily see how they would want less "ugliness" to be seen on screen, so that a family of Peruvians watching it on Sunday afternoon TV won’t get too grossed out by the sight of blood.

Or maybe I’ve got it wrong, and it’s the IRB who think that they can encourage more mums to get their kids into the sport if it’s less rough. Hey, great idea, let’s get more people playing the sport by changing it into another different sport.

We already have Touch Rugby for that kind of sporting aspiration. Hell, even Sevens Rugby, played socially is pretty gentle on the bod compared with XV’s.

The bottom line is rugby union is now under serious threat, apparently from within. The IRB need to take a good hard look at what they are trying to do and why, and the effects that it will have on the game both in terms of the spectators and fans watching it, and the players playing it.

The very best thing the IRB could do for this game is to back right off from the ridiculous clampdown, and re-introduce rucking as a recognised and permitted facet of the game.

Not only would it protect the essential warrior ethos of the game – that traditional rugby ethic of good, honest physicality – it would help to clean up the breakdown/ruck area, which has become such a mess since rucking was banned.

Get it right IRB, and stop fucking things up.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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