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Boot the place kick into touch

Opinion
What are the most irritating things in rugby today? That’s always a good one after a few pints in the pub.

Also, with so much rugby on at the moment, the annoying parts seem to get exaggerated. Much of the game is wonderful but some aspects annoy intensely.

First up, it has to be the preparation for place kicks. The pre-kick routines are getting longer and more and more ridiculous.

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John Robbie.

Which ones bug you most? The exaggerated bend from the waist, the rhythmic movement of the arms, the strange incantations that are spoken and, of course, with a certain genius fullback from New Zealand, that Satanic smile as he stares at the posts? That one genuinely frightens me.

Then there’s the St Vitus Dance preparation from a large Welsh flyhalf. Are those movements necessary or are they mere affectations? Are they superstitions or techniques?

What bugs me most is that the same formula is employed from in front of the posts, 20 metres out, from where my granny could convert, as from the halfway at the corner.

I’d like to see all place kicks done away with in favour of drops as we see in Sevens. It is a more skilful art and it takes less time. Kick out the place kick altogether and the game will be a better spectacle. Have you noticed how even the penalty try dispensation with no kick has improved things? Why not go the whole hog?

The next real bugbear is the box kick from the No9. Don’t get me wrong, it is a wonderful skill when done well, but the problem is that it is overused. Hugely. It has become a low risk option and at times the game is reduced to aerial ping-pong.

Don’t you groan when you see the nine display that tell-tale sign, with the back leg extended, as he receives the ball? It screams, “here it comes again” and up she goes. Yawn.

If the ball bounces or results in a chaser getting a fair chance with the catcher, then it is a good kick, fair enough. However, mostly the catcher gets a free ball and possession turned over, but is not able to punish the kicker because of the aggressive defensive chase. The line often tackles him and that is why the tactic is so attractive. It is low risk and now, boring.

I say allow the mark to be made anywhere on the field, as it used to be, and suspend the 22 metre-only sanction on the resulting kick. That will seriously punish bad box kicking and make it a less used option, a surprise alternative rather than a tired, unimaginative, overused one. It will improve the game.

The final weight-off-the-chest issue must be the use of substitutes.

To see herds of new players appear after an hour is both confusing and to be frank, unfair. Why should a player who has played his guts out for 60 minutes have to face a fresh-as-a-daisy monster for the last 20?

Instead of being rewarded for fitness and performance, the unreplaced player is instead penalised and the replacement receives a massive advantage.

Can you imagine a boxer in the seventh round of a fight suddenly facing a fresh new replacement opponent? That would be considered ridiculous and yet we see it in rugby every single game.

Of course, the late, great Kitch Christie started it all by using fake injuries as reasons for tactical change, knowing that doctors couldn’t take the chance and deny a substitution.

That changed the injury imperative to a tactical one as well, but it has now gone too far.

If honesty cannot be used, then the answer is to cut the number of substitutes to, say, five – three front rowers, for safety, and a further two.

The use of subs would have to become far more selective and thus the effect less dramatic and unfair.

The other option would be to allow rolling subs as in hockey, so a new face introduced could be matched immediately by the other team.

Mind you, there would have to be some controls on numbers otherwise it could get ridiculously complicated.

Rugby should go back as far as possible to being a 15 rather than a 23-person game. It might also help with the economics of it all.

Which other parts of the game annoy you? Maybe it is old former players who complain too much about an offering that is infinitely better than it was in their day.

* Robbie is a former British Lions, Ireland and Transvaal rugby scrumhalf

Saturday Star

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