The Bad Habits that are Creeping into Rugby

Nigel Owens

Rugby is a game for thugs played by gentlemen, so the old adage goes. For the most part, it remains true. The majority of players still treat officials as though they have received a knighthood; rival supporters still cheer, laugh, and sometimes cry beside each other; when the full-time whistle sounds we still recognise it’s only a game and go home to celebrate or commiserate in a relatively light-hearted manner. Unfortunately, as the sport has matured from a lanky teenager to a confident, professional adult it has acquired some unsavoury characteristics. Here’s a look at some of the bad habits that have crept into rugby union.

At the end of March we had the quarter-finals of the European Champions and Challenge Cups, with one incident in particular coming under intense scrutiny. On a bright day in Edinburgh we witnessed some of the dark arts of rugby. Pierre Schoeman somewhat foolishly blocked off Tadhg Beirne, the 18 stone Munster lock responding with a balletic spring skyward before crashing to the floor, earning his side a penalty-reversal in the process. Yes, the South African’s decision was ill-judged, but the latter’s actions were pathetic.

Such play-acting has become all too prominent in the game, despite the fact that it’s actually rarely seen; there should be no acts of the sort. Nigel Owens’ quip to Stuart Hogg at the 2015 World Cup following the fullback’s dive gained considerable notoriety – ‘This is not soccer,’ he stated. However, this is not football’s fault, the rugby world should not be tolerating such deceitful doings. Ugo Monye offered a measured view of the Beirne-Schoeman episode; reverse the penalty against Edinburgh for the prop’s obstruction, reverse it once more for the reaction. That way, the referee is condemning both players’ behaviour, helping to stamp it out.

On the same weekend there was the third meeting between Saracens and Glasgow Warriors this campaign. In the first of their encounters, Maro Itoje infamously taunted his opponents who had been under the impression they had scored a crucial try. His mocking celebration with the Warriors cohort was highly unnecessary and, as Mick Cleary of The Telegraph put it, crossed the line between being a competitor and a wind-up merchant. Of course, elite sport is an adrenaline-fuelled, cut-throat environment, but Itoje’s conduct was senseless and obnoxious. In simpler words, it was unsporting.

The British and Irish Lions fandom widely condemned the whistles and jeers reverberating around Eden Park when the best of the Home Nations collided with the All Blacks. Kickers from the touring party were afforded zero silent moments to compose themselves for shots at goal, supporters in the Northern Hemisphere being left irate at the disrespectful noises emanating from the stands. So, why were similar hisses present during this year’s Six Nations? And the year before that? And, also, the year before that, ad nauseam. The ‘win at all costs’ mentality is somewhat boorish anyway, let alone when those off the pitch take up the gauntlet.

An additional point to the preceding paragraph is that the officials are too readily scapegoated. They are invariably going to make mistakes; they only have so many eyes to keep a watch of the myriad infringements that occur over the eighty-minutes. It’s sensory overload and incidents will, whether we like it or not, be missed. It is always worth remembering that the referee is not biased, no matter how things may seem. We are all guilty of wearing rose-tinted spectacles, more likely to recall the unpunished hands-in-the-ruck of the opposition flanker than the blatant offside our darling hooker has gotten away with. These things, within reason, even out over the course of a contest; losing is the team’s fault, not the officials’.

We finish with arguably the most shameful habit rugby has acquired – the marginalisation and exploitation of the Pacific Island nations. The financially-mighty clubs of Europe are known to harvest the best young talents in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga, eventually pressurising them in attempts to prevent them representing their nations during international windows.

Moreover, the trio had been left out of World Rugby’s plans for the Nations Championship in favour of countries that can generate greater income. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi – who is both the Prime Minister of Samoa and the chairman of their rugby union – has insisted the decision will mean the Pacific Islands sides will remain as mere ‘breeding farms’ for elite rugby nations. These are places that live and breathe rugby, yet they are being treated like some sporting backwater unworthy of a place at the top table. Bluntly, it is a disgrace.

Having endured me moaning and droning, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Am I just being a pessimistic bore? Being a London Irish fan will do that to you! Or do I have a point in some cases?

What are your pet hates in Rugby?

By Ed Alexander

36 thoughts on “The Bad Habits that are Creeping into Rugby

  1. My pet hate is the number of clear and obvious forward passes ignored at every game I see, and it’s getting worse. The clue is when the commentators say “was that pass a little forward.”

    1. I blame it on the stupid were the hands backwards rule. It leaves too much room for ambiguity. Make it the players responsibility to ensure the ball physically goes backwards regardless of their forward momentum and it makes it easier for refs and fans alike

      1. So with what do you replace ‘the stupid were the hands facing backwards rule’ then Leon? The ST’s’ Stephen Jones had trouble with this one too. However, as the pass must be gauged somehow, surely if the hands are facing b’wards whilst a pass is being executed, then it’s the best law available to can be applied. Also the law of physics dictates that if an object is already in fwd motion when it is also moved sideways, it must be, at least marginally, fwd anyway. This would mean that ALL passes, apart from those thrown from a stationary posi, would also, logically, only be fwd passes. Presumably the current ‘hands b’wards’ law was brought in as the eye could not accurately detect whether a pass was fwd or not, especially if the eye were that of Wayne Barnes. Isn’t that right HangemHighDoc?

    2. Most forward passes on TV are the result of parallax error. The lines on the field show how the picture is distorted by the camera. The further from halfway the greater the distortion.
      An apparent forward pass near the goal line can be a pass thrown metres backwards.
      On the other hand the guy from Yorkshire could not spot a forward pass in a nightclub and at least twice has penalised the All Blacks for legal passes and allowed French forward passes of several leagues. French referees allow passes five metres forward as long as you play for the Lions.

  2. My pet hate is try celebrations which I feel are getting out of hand. They are unnecessary and disrespectful of both the game itself as well as the opponent. One only has to look at the disgraceful exhibitions on offer in an NFL game reminiscent of a group dance routine on offer at a talent show to be reminded of the appalling poor sportsmanship being displayed. Rugby is better than that … act like it.

    1. Agree Peter Mc, but how do you stop them? Penalise, reverse pens, march 10, yellow, cancel tries, disallow conversions? Also, akin to taunting, goading in my (black) book.

  3. The caterpillar ruck raises my hackles.
    Once the ball is won, SH’s should be instructed to use the ball immediately and that no more players may join the ruck to extend it.
    This is a really easy fix which, I reckon, would be welcomed across the board.

    1. I’d empower the ref to call use it once they deem the ball is available to the scrum half (which is often well before the formation of a complete caterpillar) – ie when it is first at the hindfoot. What we see is ruck secure, ball at hindfoot (thus available), followed by more players coming and that hindfoot moving back, then the use it call coming. Let ref’s call use it at that first opportunity.

      This would mean that the tactic is not completely outlawed but requires more skill (and intelligence on forwards) to implement by forming the catepillar quicker, otherwise scurm half will have to deal with whats infront of him.

      1. Perhaps ban caterpillars altogether Marco? Imagine if all the backs too joined on to the caterpillar? Also agree that, as soon as the pill’s available, it should be used immediately.. or turned over? The game needs more time wasting, like it needs more water boys than players on the pitch.

  4. Mine is that the offside line at every breakdown never seems to be policed, with defenders fanning out and a yard offside in the pursuit of ‘line speed’. It makes it even harder to find space and if it were properly policed, the game would open up more.

    1. This irritates me as well. I mean, its not that hard to spot. Asst refs could easily call this out yet seldom do. Its only when the attack gets to about 10m from the tryline that much notice is placed on this, but it seems to me that a high percentage of breakdowns could be penalised.

  5. My one is the amount of players looking at the ref or assistants as they wave their arms around and fall to the ground, akin to footballers when they trip over a blade of grass!!
    Also the amount of players who pretend to wave a card at the ref, requesting that the player be sent off. This is the job of the teams captain to discuss with the ref.
    The flip side is when you see the captain moving his own players away from the ref and telling them he’ll deal with it. Don’t see it often but it’s good when you do!

  6. Has anyone worked out how many scrums were unfinished and didn’t end with stupid penalties in a tournament? Why bother with scrums then? Union has become boring and looks like league with contesting scrums and line outs.

  7. The hands backwards rule. This clearly does nt work as look at the number of times an attacking team benefits from a forward pass.
    Close 2nd what happened to players being behind the halfway line when the ball is kicked off. Some players can be 3 to 4 m in front when the ball is kicked.

  8. My pet hate is the current line of thought within rugby that ‘more is more’… I love watching rugby but I don’t want to see 11 month seasons and players never being 100% fit and mentally exhausted. As a fan I’d also like the opportunity to miss the sport and get excited by a new season. At the moment they seem to blend into one.

    To add to the above, which I think is an extension of my original point is that I wish WRU would stop their obsession with the US market.

  9. Some initial generalisations & don’t see anything light hearted about losing. Nevertheless, diving, along with all forms of cheating, ought to be punished. However, cheating requires the will of authorities to take action, on & off the pitch. Regards taunting of opponents & in respect if Itoje, Flatman has opined that the former is of the ‘Wow baby’ generation. Gone are the days of a handshake for a job well done & then quietly getting on with it. Instead show ponying, high 5ing & gloating, which has more in common with The WWE than trad rugby values, has become more common place. How does this behaviour promote the game? Also, it invites taking it back. Not quite so appealing on the receiving end. Agree boorish crowd behaviour is, er, boorish, in whatever hemisphere. Perhaps the disrespectful singing of ‘Swing Low’ DURING the Haka is a case in point? Also, which is a bit more worrying, does it have racial connotations? Might the Twick crowd take umbridge if the AB’s practiced running & passing the ball
    during their Nat Anthem? If refs are unbiased, why does the pen count normally favour the home side then? Remember the disallowed Underhill try & the column inches of biblical proportions following it castigating the ref? Did all those criticising him think he was unbiased? Refs must be consistent & apply the rules, or they should go back to road sweeping. They need to be aware that they are refs, not coaches. No one puts a gun to their heads & makes then do the job. They have technology & support from their colleagues whom should proactively assist then. Little room for making excuses for them. The excuse business ought to be limited to Brexit politicians. Brett Gosper ought to be held accountable for his comment about market forces dictating the game. Any resonance here for you Andy? WR & Gosper ought to fund the PI’s (& others) better. Also support them by limiting no’s from the P Rim & into offshore teams. Imposing salary caps. Forming a PI regional team for S Rugby? Stop teams like Saracens from exploiting & bleeding their overseas ‘academies’. There may well be legal issues contained therein, but to do nothing under the guise of ‘market forces’ is unconscionable. Ultimately this practice also undermines the world game by suppressing local talent. WR must do better & perhaps TRB & it’s punters could petition & challenge them to do so!? Finally, the terms ‘droning on’, or ‘pessimistic bore’ don’t come into it if the points made are relevant, which basically, I think they are.

  10. No argument with much of your opinion about World Rugby and the need to develop the Pacific Islands Don. They are being treated appallingly. However I think there is more than one issue here, because even if WR followed your suggestions the club game worldwide is largely a law unto itself. There is more money available in the English Prem and in France than there is elsewhere so that is where players from all round the world gravitate. If you look at professional soccer (OK, I will wash my mouth out later) the top teams in Europe attract players from all round the world to the clear detriment of the development of native youngsters, but nothing gets done about it and people from poorer countries flock here looking for opportunities to improve their circumstances. Efforts to stop them depend on immigration and restraint of trade laws and are usually unsuccessful. I think the same applies now to rugby. A PI franchise would certainly keep some players at home, but a large number would still come over to Europe or go to NZ, or Aus because those economies can support a greater number of clubs and players and are wealthier than their home countries. Not suggesting that it is right, fair or good for the long term future of the game, but it is what you get when the money men take over and people with abilities realise they have just a few years to maximise their earning potential.

    1. Understand mkt forces Andy. As they’re based on self interest however, the real ?’s are, do we sit back & do nothing, or do we attempt to do SOMETHING? As an incentive & with some forethought, surely it’s not too difficult to see that the eventual ‘takeover’ by offshore invaders will fundamentally undermine the game both nationally & globally. So much for individuals’ rights. What about the good of the game? Look what’s happened in soccer. Are many players actually worth their overblown salaries? And 2 other words to conjure with; Sepp Blatter! Yikes!

  11. So many irritating things about the game at present. Not straight at scrum and lineout now completely ignored, constant off side, second player arriving going off feet past the ball to take people out, constant whinging to refs which never gets marched back ten yards, appealing for yellow cards, simulated injuries, endlessly collapsing scrums from which the penalty is often awarded completely at random, refs who think they are the star of the show, take outs aimed at defenceless heads, over celebration of tries, penalties and turn overs which disrespect the opposition, are all in the list. The most annoying at present though is the way the every team sends up two blockers in front of the ball carrier whose intention is clearly to obstruct the defence, but no one ever gets pinged for it. Oh, and the constant half-arsed messing about with the laws without considering the consequences.

    1. So many Andy! Basically cheating is being condoned by it’s not being punished, let alone recognised. The blocking, or ‘shepherding’, you mention is a particularly odious practice. It illegally stops the oppo from playing the game. So too do players whom run behind & across team mates, thus shielding themselves from tacklers. Both ploys are usually ignored. Another that detracts from the game’s being played is deliberate time wasting. Things like refusing to give ball up immediately for an oppo line out, scrum, penalty. Or kicking, chucking away, after the whistle, or ‘accidentally’ stumbling over the ball, propelling it yards away etc, etc. Should be marched 10 & or yellowed. However, these actions are usually ignored by the ref who is often facing the wrong way, accompanied by prancing & foot stomping antics, indicating the pen spot or summat, like some equestrian thoroughbred poser. Enough to make me want to sick up into a nosebag!

  12. One more thing to add. Not strictly annoying, just completely unacceptable. Quins are playing Saints tomorrow. They have 16 players unavailable through injury. Saints have 17. Surely that rate of attrition is unsustainable? The game has always been hard , but has now slipped over the edge into brutal and persistent confrontation that seriously damages people on a regular basis. Something has to be done to trim the injury rate, as it is becoming a game that many parents look at and decide to keep their kids well away from.

    1. Well about a 100 yrs ago Andy, the rugby powers changed the ruck’ n’ tackle law as it (rucking) was deemed too dangerous. Now they’re going to change it back (sort of, there’s still no actual rucking allowed) as the game’s become, er (as you point out), too dangerous. Have always deemed the original outlawing of rucking an error of judgement. The law change back then slowed possession & allowed players to lie on (are you reading this Dan Cole?) which slowed it even further. Detrimentally, it caused the present danger & malaise whereby forwards flood the defence line instead of the breakdown. Thus, with gr8er & heavier numbers running at the opposition, which contains skinny backs, we have the current situation with the injured outnumbering the fit. Of course we now also have the extra benefit of the game being 15 man, defensive, rugby league. See how the new law changes work.

      1. Absolutely agree with this – it has also contributed to the additional collisions that occur during rucks. Rucking was actually a very effective referee – without of course condoning stamping… can’t see it being bought back though…

        DP we have touched on the 10 meter march being under used elsewhere on this blog and noticed you have bought it to this forum too. For those little bits of petulance and negligence. It could also be used in reverse eg if an individual excessively gloats when awarded a penalty, their team keeps the penalty but they are marched backwards 10 yards… Admittedly this is totally open to referring inconcsistensies though.

        1. SJ. The new laws will attempt to minimise collisions & contact injuries, particularly to the head. However, if fwds were now compelled to compete at the breakdown, or stay within say 5 yrds of the ruck, it would also surely help minimise injuries. It would additionally have the benefit of reversing the current de-skilling situation, with behemoths clogging the back line, by re-skilling the game with more man on man encounters.


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