Reading about some of the new innovations coming into the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific starting next week got me thinking about what I would like to see change not only in rugby but in other sports as well.
Time limits for scrums, lineouts, and kicks at goal will hopefully speed up the game and cut out some of the time-wasting.
Changes to the involvement of the television match official [TMO] in reviewing foul play and whether those reach the yellow or red card threshold are also intended to reduce the dead time taken by the onfield referees viewing endless replays on a stadium’s big screen.
Those innovations are positive and should create a faster and better game – but do they go far enough?
I would like to see the clock stopped for scrums, lineouts, and kicks at goal because if the ball is not in play, and it is dead time, why should the clock still tick?
The interference of the TMO is another factor again and just adds to my antipathy of video officials in several codes, but more on that a bit further on.
Back to rugby’s ugly bits – starting with the driving maul. It is legalised obstruction, nothing more or nothing less. It would not look out of place in American Football, and unfortunately, is dominating many high-profile games.
Look at last year’s magnificent Women’s World Cup final between the Black Ferns and England at Eden Park. Eleven tries and 34-31 would suggest a feast of free-flowing tries, but no, six of those [two of NZ’s six and four of England’s five tries] came from driving mauls.
England’s tally would have been five from six if it wasn’t for the superb timing of Black Fern’s lock Joanah Ngan-Woo in snaffling an English throw-in at a 5m lineout with time up.
Then, there’s England’s 31-14 win over Italy at Twickenham on Sunday, where three of their five tries came from the rolling maul.
I’m not knocking England because it’s within the rules. The Springboks are also expert exponents, and many professional club sides have perfected the art, but to my mind, there’s no place for it apart from on a gridiron in North America.
Other pimples on rugby’s backside are the so-called “deliberate knockdown”. Please, in many incidents, these appear to be genuine attempts to intercept the ball, a long-standing skill many outside backs have honed, and then even if it is a “deliberate knockdown”, does it justify a yellow card and 10 minutes on the sideline?
On to cricket and a more localised rule that is a blight on the summer code – the playing of 12 players in the Central Districts’ representative competitions. The teams name a batting 11 and a fielding 11, the theory being that a traditional 12th man is not sitting around twiddling their thumbs all game.
The problem is it distorts the game. The captain and coach no longer have to decide do we play an extra seam bowler or include a spinner.
The bigger, more powerful districts have the luxury of bringing in a specialist batter at eight or nine. It has also taken the batting bunny out of the game.
A visiting Taranaki bowler told me that in the 25 games he had played for the province that he had never batted. Playing 12 is not cricket, so get rid of it.
Now let’s return to the elephant in the room, TMOs, VARs, DRS, the Bunker, or whatever fancy name you want to give them. Surely their purpose is to get decisions correct, but I wonder if they are looking at what I am.
A most recent example was Bernadine Bezuidenhout being given out caught by third umpire Jacqueline Wilson in the White Ferns’ loss to Australia at the Women’s T20 World Cup in South Africa.
Bezuidenhout mistimed a shot to mid-off, and Darcie Brown dived forward for the catch, which was referred to Wilson by the on-field umpires, who gave the soft signal of not out.
However, Wilson disagreed, sending Bezuidenhout back to the pavilion, despite clear evidence the ball had bounced before Brown got her fingers underneath it, much to the bemusement of the Aussies and commentators.
And don’t get me started on the LBW tracking. Really if I, as an umpire, gave some of those ‘outs’, I would be roasted.
I could go on about the VAR in the English Premier League and A-League.
Was that hand ball, was the goalscorer’s toenail offside or did that really deserve a red card? There are countless controversies week in and week out, and the Wellington Phoenix have not been immune to some of the most woeful injustices.
On the face of it, technology should get rid of the howler and assist in making the right decision. The reality is it has created a whole new range of controversies, and in many ways, we would be better off flushing it down the drain, never to be seen again.
I reckon most fans and players would agree.