It was, frankly, like watching a completely different sport.
The differences were too many to mention in detail, but the most noticeable change in the game today is how little space there now is on the field compared to back then.
There are many reasons for this of course, massively increased fitness and far superior defensive coaching being amongst them, but the laws of the game don’t help.
One of the noticeable features of the 1976 game was that both sets of forwards were fully involved at every ruck and maul, meaning that when the ball did emerge (and admittedly it did not always do so) acres of space were available for the respective backlines to attack.
Nowadays it is common practice for teams to commit as few forwards as they can get away with (and in some cases none whatsoever) to each breakdown with the rest fanning out across the pitch to form a defensive line. Slowly but surely the game is becoming a facsimile of Rugby League, only with less space owing to the two extra players on each team.
So, what’s the answer? One solution would be to revert to the old law where the team going forward at the breakdown always gets the put in to the scrum. Admittedly the side effect of such a change would inevitably be the ball emerging less frequently from mauls and an increase in the number of scrummages (which actually doesn’t bear thinking about given the current shambolic nature of this particular set piece), but forcing teams to commit more men to the breakdown would certainly free up space out wide.
Alternatively coaches could just wise up a little. If the opposition is going to commit only a few players to the breakdown surely the answer for the attacking team is to commit more and then, ball secured, rather than fling it out to where the opposition are defending, attack the defence where it is weakest – right up the middle behind the breakdown.
Win the ball, stay on your feet and drive it up the middle. Force the opposition to commit forwards to stop you and then move the ball into space. Not exactly rocket science but hardly anyone ever does it. Or am I missing something?