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Jake's Take is a regular column from Jake Feury. A recent graduate from Middlebury College, Jake has been involved in rugby for a number of years. Some of his playing experience includes stints with the Morris Lions (NJ), the GPS Gallopers (Australia), Middlebury College (VT), Trinity College (Dublin), Atlantis, the Northeast Academy and various age-grade All-American trials and tours.
In wake of the recent, highly-scrutinized men’s NCAA basketball national championship and the start of the Major League Baseball season, I find it an appropriate time to commend World Rugby on being proactive on an issue that is affecting many sports: rate of play.
The March Madness final, which saw North Carolina defeat Gonzaga, left many fans and critics complaining about the amount of stoppages throughout the game. Sports talk shows aired the morning after featuring analysts scolding the game officials for destroying the flow of the game with senseless foul calls. Foul increases have been a rising trend in basketball over the past couple of decades, as the powers that be were looking for different ways to create more scoring and more excitement. This highly anticipated matchup was an example of the law of unintended consequences.
This is an issue that has received a fair amount of media attention in the NBA, as well, during the 2005-2006 season when Dallas Mavericks head coach Don Nelson initiated a strategy referred to as “Hack-a-Shaq.” This tactic is used to hamper a team’s scoring capacity by continually fouling a player who has a low free-throw percentage. The NBA has tried to combat this tactic with rule changes.
Major League Baseball has also had trouble with rate of play. One can argue that the length of baseball games can be too long, and league officials are focused on improving the rate of the games. As a result, the MLB instituted several new rules, including no-pitch intentional walks and quicker replay policies.
World Rugby has appeared to steer clear of any criticism in this arena. Rugby is a fast-paced game naturally, which definitely helps the cause. That being said, World Rugby’s proactive approach in working to speed up the game of rugby even more displays strong foresight on its part. Fans want fast-paced, dynamic and exciting entertainment. Stoppages and wasted time between plays do not deliver that desired result.
In November, World Rugby announced new law trials for the 2017 calendar year. Ten of those laws directly improve the rate or length of play of a rugby match. Some of these law changes that were put forth apply to both fifteens and sevens. For example, no conversion will be needed after a penalty try. Additionally, there are three changes in regards to running into touch that were modified, all with the desired result of increasing ball-in-play time.
Moreover, there are also sevens-specific rule changes; such as one that states that championship matches will feature only seven-minute halves, as opposed to ten. There are other changes that require restarts, lineouts, scrums, penalty kicks and free kicks to be taken more rapidly, reducing the wasted time that often lingers before those events.
Collapsed scrums have been a major culprit in slowing down matches for several years, and in an effort to speed things up, as well as increase safety, there's been what seems like a never-ending string of changes to scrum cadence and engagement procedure. Among the most recent and significant rule changes that affects rate of play is the allowance for the ball to be played off the back of a collapsed scrum.
Taking learnings from other professional sports and applying them to rugby is paramount to developing the game. It is good to see World Rugby agrees with that philosophy.