Death of The Ruck

An article describing how in the modern version of Rugby Union the ruck has all but disappeared.

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In recent years the animal kingdom has lost some great creatures. The Baiji River Dolphin and the Javan Tiger are chilling with the Dodo and the Mammoth in the realm of extinction. Yet another great beast that is facing extinction is at the heart of the game of Rugby Union; the ruck. According to the laws, “the ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground”. Now I ask you to go away, watch a game of top level rugby and count how many ‘real’ rucks you see. I imagine it is likely to be in single figures and I will explain why. 
The first part of the law that states ‘one or more players from each team’ is in reality rarely seen. Often defending teams do not commit any players to the ‘ruck’ however if there are no defending players in said ‘ruck’ then no such ruck exists. If no ruck exists there is no offside line and the opposition would be perfectly entitled to stand amidst their opposing backs. Imagine the same situation but if there was a maul. If no defending players were committed the attacking team would be penalised for pre-binding before contact. Then there is the concept of players staying on their feet. The original concept of being on your feet was that if all other players were removed you would still be able to support your own body weight. At any one breakdown there is a multitude of ‘innocent’ players flopping over the ball and others that are supposedly on their feet but in reality would immediately flop over if the players on the ground were removed. The law allows players on their feet to use their hands with the concept this would speed up the rucking process. In reality defensive players put their hands on the ball when they are not on their feet, get away with it and slow the game down. The rest of their defence strings itself across the field waiting for the next down-head, plodding meat-head rumble. 

A modern ‘ruck’ PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

The game of Rugby Union has now started to resemble a poor man’s version of Rugby League which is tiresome at the best of times. The main difference between Union and League is the existence of the breakdown. But in the majority of Union games the attack finds their biggest meatheads and sends them on a one metre charge to flop at the feet of the next tackler to set up the next ‘ruck’. The defence commits perhaps one or two men to the breakdown and the rest string across the field. The attack then summons another meathead and sends him on another charge. This process often goes on for several phases until the referee arbitrarily gives a penalty because he hasn’t given one in a while, the attack knocks it on or they get bored of this pointless exercise and kick it away. Rugby Union is suffering from homogeneity. This used to be the style of select few teams but now seemingly everyone has adopted it. Rugby as a game for all shapes and sizes is slowly fading with a gym culture taking over where many players are encouraged to lift weights in the gym instead of improving their basic skills. The meat headed charges mean that many games can become a non-affair in the last ten minutes as the winning side just tries to kill out the clock. If we look at the recent World Cup and take Wales and New Zealand out of the equation it was a very dull World Cup in terms of quality of rugby. I understand there was plenty of tension in many games but there were very few vintage attacking moments that we will reminisce about in years to come. The players that were most praised at the World Cup were the openside flankers and the main reason for this was how they nullified the opposition attack. The openside flanker’s craft is a unique one and I have plenty of respect as the Richie McCaw’s of this world truly are some of the best players. However, one need only look back at the World Cup Final to see the negativity of the New Zealand back row. The following link sheds a lot of light on a so called glorious New Zealand win and is a must-watch for anyone interested in the state of the game:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuIuXrwPCcc
The main thrust of the video is to suggest the inconsistency of the referee but there are several decisions that highlight the problem that surrounds the breakdown at the moment. I must make this clear that I see this as a problem that mostly affects the top level of the game. In watching an Under 15s game of rugby I saw plenty more real rucks than in any recent international test. 
So how can we fix this problem? Well I have a few suggestions that if implemented should at least help this malaise of negative rucking. 
 1) Enforce the current law. Referees need to be more consistent and vigilant at ruck time. If players are off their feet in the traditional sense and playing the ball they should be penalised. As soon as the referee shouts “ruck” it should be a hands off policy. Anyone playing the ball with their hands should be penalised immediately and shouldn’t be offered another chance. This is not revolutionary. This is all already in the rulebook the referees just need to be stricter enforcing it. Players will learn and hopefully it should reduce the negativity both in attack and defence whilst not entirely destroying the craft of the jackler.
2) Re-introduce the use of the boot. Too many players lie around at ruck time interfering with play. It sounds barbaric but allowing the use of the boot in the ruck should encourage players to get the hell out of the way. If you don’t learn after a good shooing it is unlikely that you ever will.
3) Don’t allow scrum halves to sit with the ball at the back of a stationary ruck for an eternity. In a similar way to how mauls are managed the referee should inform the scrum half to “use it or lose it” if the ball is at the back of the ruck. If the scrum half takes too long about it a scrum should be awarded to the defending side. This will discourage the practice that takes place at the end of games where teams just slowly run out the clock with the ball safely at the back of the ruck where it is impossible for the opposition to compete for it.
As you can see my suggestions are hardly revolutionary and mostly revolve around tougher policing of the breakdown. Hopefully these new measures should lead to more forwards committing to rucks and being effective thus creating more space outside and reducing the mindless pick and drives. The ruck is one of the features that makes Rugby Union unique and it is a shame to see it move closer towards a Rugby League or American Football style of play. Here’s hoping that in the Six Nations we see better policing of the contact area and less mindless pick-and-gos but I won’t be holding my breath. 

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