Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Rucking stamped out?

A rugby player who deliberately stamped on the head of an opponent during a match was jailed for 15 months by Swansea Crown court yesterday.

Rhys Garfield, 22, of Pontycymmer, South Wales, was playing for his village team when he deliberately stamped on the head of Gareth Howells, 21, who was playing for the home side Glynneath, causing a four-inch gash which needed 30 stitches.

A 15 month jail sentence may seem a little harsh for what was probably no more than a case of the red mist descending, but it's clear that we can't have players being kicked in the head and the sentence certainly sends out the right message.

However, whilst nearly all players would agree that a boot to the head is wholly unacceptable, I'm willing to bet that most would have no objection to use of the boot to the body in the act of rucking someone out of the way of the ball on the ground. I spent a large part of my playing days at the bottom of rucks and certainly accepted the fact that if I was on the wrong side I'd get a bit of a "shoeing".

Slow ball is currently the bane of the modern game and most rucks, these days, are static affairs, with players on the ground wrestling for the ball until the referee shouts "ruck, no hands", by which stage the chance of quick ball has gone. Packs no longer drive over the ball in numbers, rucking back anything in their wake, as referees are now instructed to punish any contact of boot to body.

There are a number of proposed new laws contained in the ELVs that are being trialled down under this season that are designed to (but will fail to do so in my view) make the game more attractive and yet I see nothing in these proposed new laws that will improve the problem of slow ball at the breakdown, the one problem that, if solved, would instantly make the game more open. Indeed, the proposal to allow players on their feet to handle the ball in the ruck will slow the ball down even further and turn every breakdown into a prolonged arm wrestle followed by an untidy heap as players will, under the proposed new laws, be allowed legally to collapse any resultant maul.

No, the answer, in my view is to allow players to ruck properly again. Stamping, whether to head or to body, is unacceptable and those that do stamp must face the consequences, whether that be via rugby's disciplinary system or, in the more serious cases, via the courts. But rucking, proper good old-fashioned rucking, is a skill that has been lost to the game over the years and the game is, in my view, definitely poorer as a result.

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