travelling the country in recent months, seeking the
opinions of goodness knows how many people about
goodness knows how many issues.
The national body is consulting far and wide about
how to change the rules of the game; about what goals
to set from next year and how to win back fans to
stadiums that are looking pitifully empty.
Good on them for not standing mutely by, pretending
rugby is not under threat. Good on them for canvassing
the thoughts of those not ingrained in the game but
who may have some innovative ideas about how to
x various things.
Rugby won’t go down the gurgler, at least, not
without someone trying to grab it before it does. But for
all that it’s admirable to see these workshops and the
investment in the wider base of intellectual capital,
the NZRU could be doing more.
They could be bolder yet; more forceful, more urgent
in their thinking towards change.
Take the law book as the most pressing case in point.
There is unanimous agreement across the globe that the
rules are needlessly complicated, over written and not
entirely relevant to the way the game is played today.
The lack of specificity opens so much to the referee’s
interpretation and this is where the game is a nonsense.
The application of law is inconsistent from one game to
the next sometimes even within the same game.
It creates a horrid grey area that is open to abuse
and while the officials are most regularly in the firing
line, spare a thought for them please because they
are confronted with players who want to test the
boundaries and are good enough to pull off the
illusion of making the illegal appear legal.
Fixing rugbys law book can appear to be a Herculean
task – an almost impossible exercise to complete given
the scale of the problem. Yet, by applying a modicum of
common sense and looking for areas of universal
agreement, many of the problems could be xed
relatively easily.
If the rules can be tightened and improved to
provide clarity and simplification around the tackled
ball, offside line and scrums – the game would largely
work better. It is built on the premise of continuity so
its often the case that if momentum can be more easily
built in one aspect, it will ow through the rest of
the contest.
But, and this is the depressing part: while in all
probability the game could be largely xed in a few
days if all the right people are put together, there is
no prospect of meaningful change until 2018.
Instead of locking players, coaches and referees
from around the world in one room and telling them
not to come out until they have a few easy to implement
practical suggestions, World Rugby will instead
embark on years of global trials.
Competitions around the world will play under
slightly different laws in the process; everyone will
become more confused about what is legal and illegal
and at the end of it all, three Celtic nations will be
able to collude and use their six votes in council to
vote against anything they don’t like.
And, even if there are new laws written into law
by 2018, by then, the game will have moved to an
entirely different place all together. There will be
new, different problems.
If everyone was deadly serious about change, it would
happen in weeks, months at the most. Not years. Thats
a patently useless time-frame and it is impossible not to
wonder why the NZRU put up with it.
It’s impossible not to wonder what the point is in
holding workshops and asking stakeholder opinion if
the mechanism for change is so cumbersome and so
unlikely to deliver what is required. Talk about fiddling
while Rome burns.
One of the other reviews is the vexed question of
declining attendance and fan engagement. This can’t
be viewed as a single issue problem, however, the lack
of consistency and clarity around the application of
the laws has been a significant driver in keeping
people away.
It’s a fascinating exercise watching a game with
young kids who have never played. An exhaustive list
of questions is asked about what is actually happening
and most go unanswered. After half an the
interest dwindle as it all gets too much to understand
and piece together.
Simplify and quicken the game in those key areas of
tackled ball, scrum and offside line and immediately the
fan experience will improve.
Rugby won’t be perfect on the back of those changes
but by the start of next year’s Super Rugby it could be
vastly improved. Instead, three more years of confusion
and frustration await and Super Rugby executives will
be left staring at thousands of empty seats.
But then again, maybe it won’t matter what
improvements are made maybe the death knell for
gate attendances was signed in 1995 when the rst
broadcast contract was set up to show every Super
Rugby game live. This is an unprecedented model
among major sports competitions everywhere else
there is a cluster of non-televised games at the same
time to ensure people have to go to the stadium. But
here, man/woman on the couch is given gold service -
every game staggered; every game broadcast live so
there is never any need to leave the warmth and
comfort of the house.
The NZRU say they can’t compromise on broadcast
either kick-off times or volume of live content as it
provides 40 per cent of their income. Fair enough, but
don’t then agonise over plunging attendances.
editors letter
// NZ RUGBY WORLD // june/july 2015
Gregor Paul, Editor
Kieran Read,
Plumbing World Brand Ambassador
Branches Nationwide. Freephone 0800 800 686
Kieran Read, Plumbing World Brand Ambassador
Your team in black