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May the Rugby Coach Please Step Forward

Are we becoming copycat coaches in New Zealand? Everywhere you go from city to country we all seem to be playing the same game and my observations of Rugby over the least few years has drawn a few too many comparisons to our close cousin Rugby League.

League is a game that obviously has similar principles of play to Rugby and I think both games can learn from each other.

Rugby has adopted many defensive patterns and systems from League, so much so, many defensive coaches are from League. Drift and rush defence are just two facets that copy more of a league formation than those in the past seen on Rugby fields around the country.

But defence is not the topic I really want to address here, it’s the rest of the game, mainly that of attack.

  • We now see every team attacking with dummy runners and passes going behind fellow attackers. This has been common place in League for decades but rugby has adopted this behaviour more and more and is only questioned when a try is being reviewed.
  • We have cross kicks and kick passes as a major attack weapon, so much so, when you watch a 13-year-old game, the kids are copying it instead of the usual pass along the backline.
  • We have ‘exit plans’ that usually contains a long aimless kick down the middle of the field and a long line of defence following in League fashion.
  • We have short kicks into the in-goal area for backs to pounce on to score like what League teams do when they are on their last pass of the set.
  • We have a ruck that mirrors a League replay of the ball except it’s not between the legs – it’s between a mass of bodies, legs and arms.
  • We have a game of one-off runners bashing into the contact zone to get past the advantage line.
  • We have a scrum where you don’t have to put the ball in straight any more.
  • We have banana kicks replacing the art of the spiral kick.
  • We have a potential adoption of League’s similar version of the kick 50/22 law.
  • We have a trial looking at the awarding of a goal-line drop out to the defending team when an attacking player, who brings the ball into the in-goal, is held up. Sound familiar?

I guess one could celebrate that we still have lineouts, it’s probably the one thing that makes our game unique from the game of League.

It’s time to challenge Rugby coaches and perhaps a few law makers, to look for ways to break the League defences we have in our game, in a way that encapsulates the style, skills and uniqueness that Rugby has.

Wouldn’t it be great if this came from the community game and worked its way up to the professional game, rather than all the League type ideas coming down.

Mark Slater

Feb 28, 2020