The Reuters global sports blog
The one thing rugby union could copy from league – 13 players
Rugby union seems to be eternally engaged in a forlorn struggle to make itself more entertaining without losing its soul.
For all the rule changes the game has undergone, many matches still turn into battles of attrition decided by penalties rather than slick hands and sidesteps.
Lots of the proposed or attempted changes seem to seek to take the sport in the direction of rugby league, where the contest for possession ends with the tackle. The abandoned ELVs, for example, effectively stopped mauling while they were in force by allowing defending teams to collapse in the hope that this would lead to more open play.
Modifications like this miss the point because, while rucks, mauls and scrums might not be much fun to watch, they are part of the physical challenge that make union so enjoyable to play.
But the one thing union could copy from league is the number of players on the park. With 15 it is too easy for teams to cover the field, especially when top-class defences are in action, which may be why the World Cup final is often a dull affair with few or no tries.
Dumping two positions, a winger and a flanker say, would create more space for runners and help make the sport more entertaining without undermining the characteristics that render it unique.
I don’t know if there would be less use of the boot, but having more gaps to aim for should make the kicking more intelligent than the ping-pong we frequently have now, where the ball is hoofed with little hope of creating a scoring opportunity to players at the other end who are under no pressure.
It’s an unorthodox idea, but that does not necessarily make it a bad one.
Former England centre Jeremy Guscott said it was a “ludicrous” when someone put it to him on the BBC’s website recently. But he didn’t say why, he just told the reader to “go and watch rugby league if you don’t like the 15-man game”.
FIFA vice president Jack Warner suggested this month that it might be a good idea to reduce the number of players in soccer to 10 to stop defensive teams “parking the bus”. His boss, Sepp Blatter, laughed off the idea.
It might be eccentric, but a similar move in rugby union might just work.
PHOTOS: France hooker Raphael Ibanez tries to escape from Ireland winger Gordon D’Arcy (bottom) and flanker Simon Easterby during the Rugby World Cup Group D match at the Stade de France, Sept 21, 2007. REUTERS/Patrick Kovarik