Call for ideas on how to fix 'boring' rugby

IF RUGBY is boring as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says it is, then there will at least be a chance to fix it next year with submissions being called for on possible rule changes.

World Rugby have invited their member unions to propose ways in which the laws could be changed to help deliver a better game. The invitation has not been issued as a response to Hansen's assessment last week, when he said rush defences have come to dominate the international landscape, but the timing is interesting.

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One week the man at the helm of the world's No 1 side says the game is as dull as a Scottish summer and the next the world's governing body are asking for ideas on how to fix it.

"I've actually got big concerns about the game at the moment, because there are not enough tries being scored, which is turning the fans away," Hansen said. "I think there's a responsibility on the coaches and the players as well.

We are trying to get defensive lines up really quickly, but I think we've probably gone too far with it. There's a responsibility to the game. If we don't do that, then we are not going to have any running rugby."

There's no doubt Hansen feels a genuine sense of custodial responsibility for the game. As determined as he is to drive the All Blacks to greater heights, he sees the bigger picture and understands the general health of rugby needs to be good for the specific health of New Zealand rugby.

Steve Hansen
Steve Hansen

But he could also be laying down a challenge to his coaching peer group ahead of the World Cup. Hansen is expert at needling opposition coaches. He doesn't do personal or petty. His style is to challenge a rival coach's conviction in their game plan. He likes to highlight selection issues they face and ponder how his opposite man might deal with the problem.

It has been a deeply effective ploy in the past - most notably executed ahead of the third test with England last year when he suggested England had lost faith in their expansive game and wouldn't be sure how to play in Hamilton. As it happened, England didn't appear to know how to play that night and were thumped 36-13.

His theory that risk-averse game plans are stifling the current international game sounds awfully like an attempt to goad the main contenders into opening up and trusting more in pass and run.

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A fast game is a good game as far as the All Blacks are concerned. Their preference is to keep the ball in hand, create space on the outside and use the innate skills of their explosive athletes.

That's easier to achieve when the opposition are similarly-minded and willing to play that type of rugby, too.

The more risks any side take, the more mistakes they will make and that is the scenario that best suits the All Blacks - it creates space and counter-attack opportunities and no one knows how to play unstructured rugby better than New Zealand.

But Hansen could just as easily be said to have been double-bluffing. For a start, his contention that there is a try-drought isn't based on fact.

Members of the 14 nations pose for photographers at the Rugby League World Cup Launch at Old Trafford.
Members of the 14 nations pose for photographers at the Rugby League World Cup Launch at Old Trafford. GETTY

The current World Cup cycle - Jan 2012 to now - has seen the top-nine nations collectively score 95 tries more than they did in the corresponding period of the last cycle.

Argentina have scored more than double the tries this cycle than they did last; England and Scotland have seen significant rises in try-scoring; New Zealand and South Africa have increased by a small margin; Wales and Ireland are about the same with France and Australia the only two who suffered a marked drop.

The game isn't really in dire straits. Hansen made his comments in Europe after watching a couple of Six Nations games.

They weren't great, but it's doubtful this year's Rugby Championship will produce much in the way of memorable action. It's always like that in World Cup year - teams tighten up and try to keep a lot of their rugby under wraps.

Then when they get to the World Cup, the pressure kicks in and the plans they might have had to unveil a few attacking ploys often get shelved. The knockout games, in particular, become low-risk, kick-and-chase affairs where the respective defences are on top.

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That sort of rugby has been the undoing of the All Blacks at past World Cups and, to a certain extent, it troubled them on last year's European tour.

Wales blitzed the All Blacks in Cardiff last year and, for 68 minutes, their rush defence kept the home team in the game.

A three-try blast took the All Blacks to a 34-16 victory and the final 12 minutes may have provided answers as to how they can play against a rush defence in 2015.

When the All Blacks had two key decision-makers and two capable kickers in their backline - Colin Slade went to first five-eighths and Beauden Barrett shifted to fullback - they had the skills to break the Welsh stranglehold.

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