"15-man rugby league" - Rob Baxter unimpressed by rugby law changes - Ruck

“15-man rugby league” – Rob Baxter unimpressed by rugby law changes

Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, has called for a ‘moratorium’ on the constant law changes he feels are blighting the current game.

Written by Mark Stevens, PPA Sports Content exclusively for RUCK.

In his weekly media call ahead of his side’s Gallagher Premiership trip to lowly Newcastle Falcons, Baxter was quizzed what law change he would like see implemented.

His answer, however, was somewhat simple: ‘I’m going to introduce a new law and that is we’re not going to change the laws of rugby union for ten years.”

Baxter says he has become increasingly frustrated with the now regular tweaks and adaptations to how the game is effectively run, particularly around scrum time where he feels what should be a pushing contest between the respective packs is now condensed into how quickly the ball can come in and out of the set-piece.

“As a club, the single most important thing we have focused on is getting the opposition to a contest, that is the key more than anything else at scrum time,” said Baxter. “We can’t turn around and complain about set-pieces at World Cups, if we don’t decide that we’re going to try and have teams in the Premiership that try to get to a scrum contest.

“In the past it has been too easy not to have a scrum contest. It happened in our game at the weekend, the first pressure scrum that we had, Gloucester backed away, but fair play the referee saw it very well and penalised Gloucester.

“That kind of play where you can win rewards for trying not to scrum, we have to really try and get on top of. What will allow a scrum to be what it is – which is basically 16 guys pinned down and making it a genuine pushing contest, which in turn is a fatiguing element for big forwards – is what it should be.

“Tying down 16 guys and get them tired so that other guys can run around and score tries, that is what it is for. I believe we have lost that element of the game because it’s not a pushing contest and it can be over in three seconds because someone dives at the floor, someone falls apart or someone calls an early engagement. Instead, you have 16 guys who are in the game with no fatigue element.”

He added: “If you get to a scrum and the opposition know it’s going to be a pushing contest, you then have a platform from which you know you can attack because opposition back-row have to stay down and they have to scrum. If they don’t want to commit to that physical contest, you don’t have that opportunity to win penalties or get field position. For us, we have started at the very basic point, which is to have a scrum contest first and that will open everything else up.”

Baxter believes addressing issues such as this is vital to the future of the game and insists all parties need to be singing from the same hymn sheet moving forward.

“If we return to trying to make that happen across the game, that’s TV, refereeing, coaching, everything you want to do, then I truly believe you will see the scrum become a very important element of the game. What we keep trying to do is circumvent it with little tweaks and law changes and that’s the last thing we need to do. 

“If we keep making the scrum a three-second contest, then the ref just blows his whistle, losing a huge element of the game, which is big guys trying to tire one another out and  what creates space for everyone else.

“We shouldn’t be trying to have a complete ball in play game without physical contest because that won’t create good games of rugby. All you will be doing is creating 15-man Rugby League. We can’t let the game get like that because it won’t be a spectacle 

“We have kept thinking we have created a better game, but in truth we have made it harder for ourselves. I would genuinely like a moratorium on the constant law changes, simply because you don’t see this in any other sport. 

“We have had such good games of rugby in the past with sets of laws, but then we always always want to change them. If we simply stuck at what we have now, let everyone get comfortable with it, you will soon have an amazing product very quickly. 

“As it is now, any new person coming to the game will never know what is happening and that’s an odd thing to do when you are trying to grow a sport.”

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“Beyond a joke” – Nigel Owens calls for major changes to rugby

Popular former referee Nigel Owens has called for major changes to way games are officiated following what was a divisive Rugby World Cup.

The Welshman, who was writing in his column for Wales Online, believes there are a number of areas that need addressing after taking time to think about what went down in France.

Dump the bunker:

Owens wrote: “During the Rugby World Cup, I made no secret of my thoughts on the new TMO bunker. While it certainly showed how it can help to speed up games, it hardly reduced controversies or improved decision-making during the tournament and, in my opinion, ended up being used too much when the decisions should have been made by the on-field referees.

“At the moment, it feels like the TMO is refereeing matches and that is not a road that rugby should be going down. While technology has its place in the game, how it is used currently needs to change.”

Scrap the drop-out:

Owens wrote: “It was hoped that they would improve player safety by reducing the number of pick-and-gos and encourage teams to spread the ball along the back line rather than bulldoze their way over to score.

But if you look at games now, teams are still picking and going and they’re still bulldozing their way over the line. If anything, it rewards negative play as the defender can just chuck themselves under the ball and hold it up.”