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'We've got to the stage where you can substitute half the team'

Anthony Foley would like to see altered scrums, only five subs and the re-introduction of rucking in rugby.

WORLD RUGBY LAST month launched a review process that will result in global trials of new or revised laws from January of 2017, as rugby looks to change for the better.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has already suggested that the sport is in danger of becoming “boring” and has been particularly critical of current defensive and breakdown trends in the Northern Hemisphere.

Steve Hansen after the match Hansen has been vocal about his desire for law changes. Source: ©Photosport/Inpho/Billy Stickland

A World Rugby laws representation group will meet in the coming months to discuss and assess the initial law recommendations from member unions, with the IRFU’s David Nucifora part of that collective.

While the Kiwis have been vocal and firm in getting their desires across early, the IRFU told The42 that they were not willing to comment on the subject at this stage.

The quadrennial law review process remains a hot talking point within the game, however, and there are a wide range of opinions on how rugby can best develop within the next World Cup cycle.

Ensuring the game has less stoppages is a common feeling, and Munster head coach Anthony Foley is a firm believer in that regard.

The 62-times capped former Ireland back row says we need to look at the scrum and number of substitutions allowed at present [eight].

I think the game has too many stoppages in it,” said Foley at a Guinness Pro12 event in Kingspan Stadium yesterday.

“I think from my end, once we can get a handle on the scrum, no pushing before the ball, square and steady, put the ball in, then scrummage: that would be great. That would allow you to have five substitutions, I’d like to go back to five substitutions.

“At the moment, you can substitute half your team. If you had five, it’s only a third of the team. Less stoppages in the game, get the TMO decisions quicker. I think there is a place for the TMO, but it needs to be quicker.”

Anthony Foley Foley is in his first season as Munster's head coach. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The scrum is a constant source of frustration for many rugby supporters, players and coaches, given that it can eat up so many of the 80 minutes in each game. Foley believes rugby needs to look back to move forward in this regard.

The Munster coach says that having the front rows crouch, engage, get steady and then feed the ball into the scrum would result in quicker set-up times and reduce the need for three front-row replacements on the bench.

“The way it originally was before a team in black with a white fern decided that that wasn’t good enough for them, that they couldn’t beat South Africa because they were bigger men, so they brought a more dynamic hit into it,” said Foley.

You need to go back and look at what was good in the game, because the game was always protected because the big players had to scrummage, maul, there wasn’t a lot of stoppages in the game, they didn’t have a lot of substitutions.”

In regards to allowing eight substitutions, Foley’s argument is that being able to change more than half a team during a game, coupled with the major stoppages for scrum and TMO decisions, means there are rarely fatigued players on the pitch.

That in turn means big men running into well-organised big men repeatedly.

“When my father [former Munster lock Brendan] played, there were no substitutions, it was 15 against 15. Then they brought in that a doctor could only take you off the field if they deemed you weren’t fit to continue,” said Foley.

“Now we’ve got to the stage where you can substitute half the team. What you don’t have then is accumulative fatigue, you don’t have fellas playing the 80 minutes of rugby having to go again and again. You want the best athletes in the world, don’t get me wrong.

Anthony Foley Foley believes we need change at the scrum. Source: Ian Cook/INPHO

“But what you want on the pitch is a high-intensity game played, where people have to make decisions quickly. Those decisions won’t always be right, but fatigue takes that away and makes more errors in the game.

“We’ve gone away from that and even defensively it becomes very set in stone what you’re doing, purely on the grounds that you can put on five forwards and three backs.”

Some of Hansen’s commentary around the breakdown and the need to review that area of the game is possibly motivated by a degree of trepidation at having to face the defensive breakdown strengths of Northern Hemisphere sides at the World Cup.

A long-standing tradition at Munster of stealing and slowing ball at the breakdown would suggest that any change in this area of the game would not be welcomed by Foley, but he sees the need for quick ball in attack.

The Munster head coach suggests that the re-introduction of old-fashioned rucking – whereby players are allowed to use their feet in a backward motion to remove players lying on the wrong side of the ball - might be one measure to ensure quick possession becomes more commonplace.

My first game for Shannon was against Young Munsters in Thomond Park in ’92,” said Foley. “The one place I didn’t want to be was off my feet at a ruck. At the moment, you’re actually looked after off your feet in the game.

“Now there is a level of safety that needs to be there around that, I understand that and I’m not naive enough to think that you can go around kicking fellas, but I think if you have a good degree of rucking in the game, that allows you to make sure those players were discouraged from lying on that side of the ball.

“I would think they wouldn’t be there, and everyone talks about the game being a spectacle. The spectacle is quick ball! From our point of view I’m all on for changing the game, but you still have to have competition.

Anthony Foley Foley was speaking at a Guinness Pro12 event in Kingspan Stadium. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Whether that’s scrum, lineout, attacking, breakdown, defensive breakdown, you still have to have competition. Good players will want competition, so I encourage that because I deal with a lot of good players.

“I want them to be competitive on both sides of the ball. Obviously I don’t want the opposition going near our ball and I want our ball as quick as possible, but I don’t want the opposition ball as quick as possible.”

Foley’s strong beliefs around the scrum and substitutions are underpinned by a desire to see the ball in play for longer periods of the 80 minutes.

In the 2014 Six Nations, for example, the average ball-in-play time was 36 minutes and 57 seconds; Foley wants to see those figures rise.

“You look at the time the ball is in play and you look at it being an 80-minute game and you ask ‘where is the rest of the time going?’”

What laws would you suggest World Rugby introduce or revisit in their review process? Do you agree that a reduction in substitutions and changes to the scrum would be positive? Should rucking return?

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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