Rugby needs rucking

MARK KEOHANE, in Business Day, writes that allowing rucking would make the game Rugby Union again and not a variation of Rugby League.

If the clever guys who determine rugby’s laws granted me one wish it would be to bring back rucking, with the only proviso that a boot on the head or face would be an immediate red card and a lengthy ban.

Other than that, ruck away.

Ruck at those paws that refuse to let go of a ball in the tackle. Ruck at those paws that always find a way back to the ball in the act of supposedly rolling away and ruck away at those legs, arms and backs of those players who lay all over the ball and make absolutely no attempt to roll away.

Ruck away, in the name of a fairer game, a more attack orientated game and a game more in keeping with rugby union, as it was meant to be played, and not rugby league, as the latter has always been played.

At least in Rugby League if you don’t go anywhere in your six sets with the ball you turn over possession. In rugby union teams take the ball between 15 and 20 phases and go absolutely nowhere.

The breakdown laws are weighted in favour of the attacking team, providing the ball carrier’s body position and placement of the ball is accurate. One player can take the ball in against three defenders or more and one of the defenders will inevitably get penalized for going off his feet or entering from the side.

It only reinforces a defensive line and a lack of commitment to the ruck. Why commit players to the breakdown when it is almost impossible to win the ball? In the glory days when the battle on the ground was still a contest more players had to commit to the breakdown, rucking was allowed to sort out those who deliberately infringe and back line players had space and width to showcase attacking skills.

Referees also refereed and didn’t assume the role of rugby coach in the name of a 20-phase continuity exercise sold to a rugby audience as entertainment.

The maul is lauded in rugby union as a skill, despite obvious obstruction. Seven players are in front of the ball carrier and protect him. The only way through for the defender is the middle and any player coming in from the side is penalized. Again it is not a contest.

Rugby has become one defensive line because the contest has been taken out of the lineout, the breakdown and now the scrum.

I know I am not alone in wanting a contest again. Watch some of the games from the 1970s and 1980s and the attacking skills and individual brilliance made rugby union a spectacle. Players had space and used width as a form of attack and not just as an extension of a defensive line.

It frustrates me to see players get away with everything at the breakdown and for those refereeing coaches to excuse it because they had ‘warned’ the players to keep their hands off the ball or to ‘get back onside’.

The ‘offending’ player has already managed to slow down the recycle of the ball and thereby the pace of the game.

It makes for a bloody boring game of attrition.

Which brings me to the individual genius of Cheetahs back Willie le Roux. There is no other South African player who can unlock defensive systems like him. He has the footwork, the hand speed and the natural know how to commit more than one defender before making a pass.

Le Roux’s offload for the first try against the Kings was as good as any produced in the competition. His reverse box banana kick would have been a try but for the bounce and there were other instances that screamed rugby union player and not rugby league prototype in the guise of rugby union.

Le Roux’s skills are to be applauded and rewarded. He will make mistakes because that’s what happens with players who are constantly trying things on attack.

All the great attacking backline players in the game’s history made mistakes. Nowadays players are rewarded for not making mistakes, which means they try to create very little and rely on physically wearing down the opposition.

Le Roux is an attacking exception in a very defensive world. He is a gem.

I’d pick him to start at fullback for the Springboks and I’d have Gio Aplon on the wing or among the substitutes.

Both are in Bok coach Heyneke Meyer’s extended Bok squad. I hope both are still there when he announces his Bok squad proper this Saturday.

Mostly, though, I hope for the day when the maul is outlawed, rucking is again a law and rugby union is not a mirror image of rugby league.