Rugby’s global governing body has turned the sport into a power contest at the World Cup, according to outspoken Australia head coach Eddie Jones.
But the former England head coach said it was nonetheless “fascinating” to see where the sport was heading, with various changes to tackle rules and the use of technology having had a major impact on the game.
“You can see in this World Cup the game’s evolving into these 30-second bouts of absolute power, (with) big people playing the game,” said the 63-year-old ahead of his team’s Pool C clash with Fiji.
“So you’ve got these 30-second bouts of power then interspersed with a two-minute burst of soccer, football, where there’s a lot of transition and you’ve got to be able to play really quickly.”
Jones said World Rugby’s attempts to mitigate danger had been directly responsible for the changes he sees in the game.
“World Rugby have tried to make the game safer but they’ve made it more powerful by having more stoppages in the game and there’s risks to that,” he said.
“I think this World Cup is going to be decided by who can win those power contests.”
And that’s not the kind of rugby Jones wants to see.
“I’ve always said you need the game to be more continuous. The average ball in play is 30 seconds, the average break in play is 70 seconds, so you encourage a power contest,” he said.
It is a trend that has also been noticed by Samoa’s forwards coach Tom Coventry.
“If you go back over the year, ball in play was more than a minute. Not anymore,” he said.
Use of technology is another contentious issue in rugby, with the television match official (TMO) and new ‘bunker system’ resulting in several on-field yellow cards being upgraded to red.
“Our use of the TMO in rugby is fraught with danger,” said Jones.
“It’s not making the game a better spectacle, it’s not making it a better game for the players.”
And yet, Jones noted, fans still come out in their tens of thousands to watch international matches, with more than 80,000 watching France beat Australia 41-17 in a pre-tournament warm-up match.
“International rugby is so popular we could almost put anything on the field and people are still going to come because of the nationalism and patriotism of the teams, but I think we need to improve the game,” said Jones.
England head coach Steve Borthwick is another to have questioned the role of the TMO.
He pointed to an apparent inconsistency in how the high tackle rule has been interpreted at this World Cup.
The TMO has been used to upgrade yellow cards given to England’s Tom Curry and New Zealand’s Ethan de Groot, while France’s Romain Taofifenua’s yellow card was confirmed and South Africa’s Jesse Kriel avoided any sanction at all — and all for tackles that were seemingly similarly high and dangerous.
Veteran Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy is not convinced by the changes.
“I respect the decisions, but you see more yellow, more red cards” he said earlier this week, pointing out that rugby is supposed to be “a contact sport”.
“I am not a specialist, but I feel that we are heading towards a different rugby.”
Jones said on Friday that there would be an opportunity after the World Cup to improve the game but that World Rugby bosses “don’t want to know.”
However, a World Rugby spokesperson said Jones has been involved, alongside other coaches, in forums aimed at shaping the future of the game “that led to the law application guidelines introduced this year aimed at promoting ball in flow.”
“He has also served on World Rugby’s Rugby Committee,” added the spokesperson.
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: EPA/DAVE HUNT