Guest Columnist - David Robertson

February 11 2019

David Robertson

Is ‘Physicality’ the New Measure of Success?

by David Robertson

It’s hard not to be fascinated by some of the intensity of the physical collisions in the modern game of rugby at the top level, much as MMA has the same attraction for many that boxing once had before it. It’s that same fascination that presumably fuelled the baying crowds at the Coliseum in Ancient Rome, a visceral sensation for violence and blood - as long as it’s vicarious and “not mine”. Accordingly, the ‘gladiators’ of modern, international rugby are becoming increasingly honed and trained to be just that, physical specimens for a public spectacle, but is that really the game that we want? And is it sustainable?

If you’re part of the revenue-generation team for any of the leading rugby nations then those questions are not really a concern of yours.

Everyone understands that in professional sport of all sorts, that it’s not only the players who are competing, it’s all the different interests who have a financial stake in the game. We repeatedly hear expressions such as, “it’s good business” or “the job depends on it” and that makes sense if the revenue piece is the most important aspect to both to the owners and to the salaried employees as well as to the myriad entities that are involved in every aspect of the business models. The problem remains, however, that we have a game that is no longer attractive both in the literal sense and the figurative one to the many thousands of participants who cannot train seven days a week in highly professional environments. It’s a bit like televising your average weekend recreational golfers in their foursomes and comparing it to watching Spieth, Woods, McIlroy et al.

If World Rugby won’t change the laws for the non-professional game then surely the individual unions can. Rugby Canada could show the sort of leadership that their New Zealand counterparts once did. The leading nation in the world introduced weight-based rugby in schools and ‘safe scrummaging’ modifications, among other things, long before anyone else and it hasn’t exactly hurt their player development. Is it not time for a task-force to be formed to examine the situation at the very least?

The current game may not be boring if you’ve known nothing else, but the fact is that for many of us, it is boring. On top of that, the more serious concerns that I’ve already raised about safety, head injuries and the declining appeal to a new generation of parents, surely all call for action? In the finest traditions of the game’s origins, who’s going to pick the ball up and run with it?

NOTE: thought that this piece on the BBC Sport site was coincidental

Players 'need protected from themselves' in 'car crash' collisions 
By Jamie Lyall 
BBC Scotland 

Kelly Brown captained Scotland to victory over Ireland in 2013 

The game must "protect players from themselves" in an era of "car crash" collisions, says former Scotland captain Kelly Brown. 

England lock Maro Itoje, Ireland's CJ Stander, and Sam Skinner of Scotland are among those sidelined this weekend by injuries sustained in the opening round of Six Nations matches. 

"Every tackle, carry, breakdown is almost like a car crash," Brown said. 
"Big men smashing into each other. The sheer force can never be doubted." 
Tougher sanctions for high tackles and contact to the head have been introduced in a bid to reduce the risk of brain injuries. 

Players and coaches on both sides of the equator, including Wales back-row Ross Moriarty and Queensland Reds boss Brad Thorn, have bemoaned the sport "getting soft". 

But Brown, 36, who won 64 Scotland caps and lifted six trophies with Saracens before retiring in 2017, believes rugby is still "incredibly physical". 

"I understand exactly why some of the laws have been changed to try and make it safer, certainly with contact to the head," he told BBC Scotland. 
"Some of the penalties look a bit soft but that's because they're trying to change the behaviour of players. 

"The change in the laws is almost to protect players from themselves." 

'England battered Ireland - Scotland will use tempo' 

After easing past Italy, Scotland host a wounded Ireland in the second round of championship fixtures. 

Joe Schmidt's defending champions were pummelled by England in Dublin, but Brown believes Scotland do not have the bulk to replicate the bruising approach of Eddie Jones' side. 

"England just physically battered them, really," Brown said. "The telling stat was the number of dominant tackles - 49 to six. Ireland just couldn't cope with the brutality. 

"Scotland are a very, very different team. England have got four or five absolute monsters - you talk about Mako and Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi, Itoje - they have some huge physical beasts. 

"Scotland probably don't quite have the size. But they will have the intent, they will need to really front up in defence, and then when we get a chance to attack, I'd expect Scotland to attack in a very, very different way to England. 

"England used the kicking game a lot and put the ball in behind Ireland - we need to do that at the right times, but I think Scotland will look to inject a bit more tempo into the game." 

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