Tim Smart Proposes: “Packer-style revolution needed to save Australian rugby”

By Tim Smart (TS) , 20 Sep 2013 Tim Smart is a Roar Rookie

 ARUBill PulverRugby UnionWorld Series Cricket

  • Enrique TOPO Rodriguez (ETR) said | September 20th 2013 @ 3:12pm | Report comment

TS – I cannot help but think that Australian rugby needs a Kerry Packer/World Series style revolution. And very soon. Cricket was arguably saved and revolutionised by Kerry Packer and the radical changes introduced as part of World Series Cricket. Traditionalists were aghast at coloured clothing, white balls, 50 over games, field restrictions, bowling limits, games at night etc. But it spawned a new generation of cricket followers that the staid administration of the ICC would never have been able to develop.
ETR – Hi Tim, Packer used his gigantic pockets and bought everything and everyone in Cricket. In my modest opinion, in Australian Rugby we need to use our head and half of Packer’s pocket!

TS – I grew up playing rugby and have been a passionate supporter all my life. Increasingly I find myself now preferring to watch NRL and AFL. I still watch rugby but find myself generally frustrated with a game that simply does not work and has not adapted to the professional era. I recently was at a lunch where ARU Boss Bill Pulver said across a range of KPIs (key performance indicators) he looks at, rugby has been trending negatively for quite some time (seven years I think). While he outlined a range of initiatives to try and reverse these trends, I cannot help but feel there is a fundamental issue in rugby that is just not being addressed. And that is that the game itself, especially at the highest level, is fundamentally flawed.
Rugby has not aged well. It simply has not adjusted to the professional environment.?????

ETR – Isn’t it a CRIMINAL to win 2 RWC’s and go on to waste opportunity upon opportunity, and oodles of mullah with very little to show today?

TS – 15 fit professional players on a field size that has not changed, able to stand on the gain line in defence and all highly capable at the breakdown has left the game too defensive, too technical and increasingly at the whim of a referee’s whistle. This is then exacerbated by three points for penalties, which are capable of being made now from anywhere inside 55m. Notable that it is Sevens that is an Olympic Sport, not 15s. The game is increasingly one dimensional rewarding a power based game and penalising those trying to develop a running game. Ewen McKenzie faces the unpleasant task of trying to win back crowds tired of the technical nature of rugby but with a reality that such a game plan more often than not spells defeat.

ETR – What about NZ, SA, Wales, England, Argentina, Italy? Don’t they play attractive and efficient rugby from time to time?

TS – He faced the reverse issue when at the Waratahs, when he achieved solid success but was driven out for failing to deliver a ‘style’ of rugby that would attract crowds. Unlike AFL and NRL, who adapt rules and interpretations (even mid–season) to ensure an optimal product, rugby suffers from its link to the IRB. Rugby’s greatest asset (its global reach) is also its greatest weakness and ultimately will kill the game in Australia, where there are two very good and strong alternate winter contact sports.

ETR – the problem here is: we do not have properly trained “professional administrators”!!! Being a good lawyer or a good doctor or good account it doesn’t specifically prepare you for professional sports admin. In the last 17 years they have been demonstrating it! time and time again.

TS – This is simply not the case in the northern hemisphere, hence the imperative to adapt the product is not there. The southern hemisphere-driven experimental law variations – which were trialled and ultimately abandoned on account of traditionalists from the northern hemisphere ruling the IRB – are a classic case demonstrating the problems rugby faces in Australia competing with NRL and AFL. If Bill Pulver genuinely wants to turn around the trends of rugby KPIs in Australia, he needs to boldly break away from the IRB and dramatically bring the product into the 21st century.

ETR – Tim, re-founding, or breaking away is capital sin, the most flawed weak solution, a bit like a “Leadership Spill”. Australia contributes about the laws and anything else like any other country member of the IRB. So you don’t like the deal, and go pitch your tent on the other side of the river from the IRB? How about persisting? A breakaway will debilitate the game even more. It’s a silly No win situation!

TS – Looking at crowds and ratings in New Zealand, he may in fact find an ally here. As was the case with cricket in the 70s, purists will not like the changes but the reality is the existing product appeals to an ageing and diminishing audience. The next generation of potential supporters are increasingly disinterested in rugby, favouring far better products in AFL, NRL and, increasingly, the A-League.

ETR – The next generation of fickle supporters or viewers need to be educated about the game, what is good about it and what can be improved, all options are imperfect!

TS – Below is my first go at updating and upgrading rugby to recognise changes in the professional era and provide a sport that indeed encourages and rewards those that execute the running game well.

ETR – The biggest solution would be to move away from the brethren FOOTBALL side (foot) and emphasize and develop the RUGBY side of things (hands). Without eradicating kicking all together, after all this is a great skill that needs to be displayed yet less often and less influential on final outcomes.

• The number of players on a team should be reduced to 13 players.
ETR – What are you thinking? (you must be a RL spy)

• Only kick out on the full from within 10m of the tryline.

• Penalties against the attacking team should only be short-arm free kicks. Why an earth should a team get three points for an error by the team in attack? –

• Penalties should reflect the closeness to which the team is to the tryline.
Penalties within 10m of the line should be three points. Penalties from 10m to 25m should be two points and penalties outside the 25m should be one point.

• Drop goals should be reduced to one point.

• Five minutes in bin should be mandatory for all deliberate transgressions inside the 25m area by the defensive team.
• Ban the rolling maul. It is simply obstruction and should be treated exactly the same way it is in general open field play. You cannot run with a player obstructing in front of you. – Absolutely it’s a farce!
• Players not bound or involved in a ruck or maul must be back 5m from last feet. A second referee on the field should be policing the offside line and, like league, calling players back to the 5m line.

ETR – TIM, an old pet hate of mine: RUCK and MAUL sound great together but they are as different as CHEESE and CHALK. Incidentally, PLEEEEASEE bring back “The Ruck” (the fastest and most efficient way to speed up the ball and the game)

• As is the case for lineouts, backs should be 10m back from the scrum.
• Any kicks above head height that are caught on the full inside the half result in a short-arm free kick to the team catching the ball. Many will say this looks more like league. To the extent that there is greater emphasis on attack and more room to move, more ball in play etc. yes, it does look more like league.

ETR – No it doesn’t because the ball obtention and possession in league is completely different in Union. League gets it granted FREE OF CHARGE. In Rugby you pay blood ,sweat and tears to get it, nothing is for free in rugby union (whether territory or possession you got to earn it and even after you earned it the opposition can challenge you again. The sense of ownership in rugby is ever fleeting as in life…..

TS – But it retains some key differences that make rugby appealing and differentiated.
Most critically, all possession is contested. Scrums and lineouts (set piece) are still a contest. The breakdown is a contest and the five tackle/kick formula that can become predictably boring in some league games does not exist. Not being able to kick the ball out on the full would see a lot more ball in play and require a far higher level of aerobic capacity.

Providing a free kick for all kicks caught inside the defending teams half would deter wasteful kicking, high balls. Tiredness, along with (13 players NO) on the field, would likely see greater space for those willing to attack from kicks.

ETR – You are kidding yourself Tim, people need to use their head to solve the problem not eliminate bodies!!

TS – Retaining three points for penalties inside the 10m line and a five minute mandatory sin bin for deliberate transgressions would reward attacking teams and place a very strong deterrent to defending teams from committing professional fouls to stop tries.

ETR – A more flexible scoring system will appeal to more people (just like market segmentation, penetration, etc.) So you could have spectators with a calculator looking at all different permutations at half time: how many of this or that we need to win! (better than having some stupid kicking or passing display at hal time, what about the cheerleaders? Wouldn’t lecherous Louis or Louisa love that and attend games more often?

TS – Reducing the points available from penalties outside the 25m area should reward teams that are able to enter the 25m area more regularly. Eliminating the option to kick goals from penalties against the attacking team encourages teams to be more adventurous, knowing if a player does not release a ball, for instance, when caught it will not cost three points. It is enough deterrent to turn the ball over and offer a kick, scrum or lineout to the opposition. Do I think any of the above will actually happen or be considered? No. Like Test Cricket, the ‘traditionalists/purists’ that run and influence rugby administration are generally blind to the fact the product is flawed and the nostalgia of yesteryear will do little to appeal to the next generation of potential supporters who are gravitating to games better adapted to a professional era namely, AFL and NRL.

ETR – Tim, I have to cut across your “rant”, when you refer to “product flawed” because it appears that things are not working in Australia (25M people) and appeal to some “nostalgic & day dreaming” administrator to knock this game and its inventors as “dumb”(this is how I felt when I read your words). A bit rich for technical critique!

In Australia (and several other countries also) the problem is not THE GAME, but the way it is implemented yes am talking about administration. Not just administration but PROFESSIONAL ADMINISTRATION that should have been selected to carry out the job of running PROFESSIONAL RUGBY since 1995. Incidentally, Directors also carry the responsibility for what happens and stop it if Not Good. Not just enjoying the trappings of mixing with visiting personalities and “favours” dispensed their way. The well known “gravy train”

So, How about turning up the heat in that direction? May I remind you ARU made $45M in the 2003 RWC!!!!! So how did they lose the direction? Don’t come up with “the Wallabies have not been performing well” brecause that’s crap! If the ARU was run like a company, would have never been in the trouble has been in the last 7 years. So if any one tells you that the players are influencing the administration, tell them what I say here: A family, an organization or a tribe from the top is either functional or dysfunctional. Not that complicated really, and is a migrant telling you this!
And I clarify; I made the decision to come to Australia with my family. No one else did and 28 years later still very glad I did!

TS – With no dramatic change to rugby in Australia, the trends that are well established will simply continue. The Lions tour which saved Australian rugby financially this year and likely for the next couple only comes around every 12 years. Given the continuation of current trends I doubt rugby can financially survive the drought until the next Lions tour. Is there a Kerry Packer out there?

ETR – Australian rugby is far from saved, the Lions Tour attracted a lot of money to rugby and tourism, however it is a long rocky road ahead in trying to lift the $20M “deficit cross” that is heavily weighing in all decisions the ARU is making today.

Australian Rugby needs to become “MORE INCLUSSIVE” as against “EXCLUSSIVE / EXCLUSSIVITY”. This will attract more people following it and growing the market substantially. How is this done? This is a huge “culture change” and shift that probable needs to start in primary schools when instead of being inculcated that you belong to an “elite”, you are now part of a big “mob” that love the game for what it is and not necessarily “the benefits you may derive from it”.

Enrique TOPO Rodriguez
Triple Rugby Union International (1977-1991)


About toporod

Triple Rugby Union International (1977-1991) The ART of SCRUMMAGING - 2013 Gold Medal Winning Author - [IPPY] - 2014 Silver Medal Winner [eLit Awards] - Enthusiastic writer on Rugby and Bipolar Disorders - International Rugby Consultant and Public Speaker - www.expertrugbyconsultants.com
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