Eddie Jones has launched a withering attack on the experimental law variations he fears are leading rugby down the path of Twenty20 cricket.
Duncan Bech of PA Sport writes that the Saracens director of rugby and former Wallabies coach is alarmed by what he views as a misguided attempt – orchestrated by Australia – to make the sport more exciting.
Jones was speaking at Wednesday’s launch of the new Guinness Premiership season, where the introduction of the controversial ELVs topped the agenda.
New rules such as legally being able to collapse the maul and no player restrictions at the line-outs have been greeted with animosity in the northern hemisphere.
Jones, a respected voice in the game who steered Australia to the 2003 World Cup final, feels the changes could inspire a new version of the sport.
“The important thing is to improve rugby. To judge the ELVs you have to ask ‘have they made the game better?”‘ he said.
“Better does not necessarily mean more entertaining. If you want entertainment, you watch Twenty20 cricket. We don’t want rugby to be Twenty20 cricket.
“That has to be the judgment line. These changes have been made with a view to entertainment, not to improving rugby.
“The pressure on rugby in Australia is to win fans. They’re competing directly against Aussie rules, rugby league and football.
“All three are simple motion games where the ball is always in play. To compete the Super 14 has become a quick-tap motion game.
“The ball is in play a lot but that doesn’t create a better game, it creates entertainment – to the detriment of rugby.
“Now there’s Test match cricket and Twenty20 cricket but we need to keep Test-match rugby.
“Around the world most people want to watch Test rugby. There are pockets around the world who want to see Twenty20 cricket so let’s make Twenty12 rugby.
“We could have 12 players, 20 minutes each way with no scrums or line-outs.
“As the game becomes more professional another form of the game could develop. Sevens hasn’t been a success as entertainment.
“It might do well in Hong Kong and Wellington, but around the world. You might find another form of the game springs up eventually.”
Dwindling club attendance figures in the southern hemisphere prompted a rethink by the International Rugby Board into the way the game should be played.
The law changes are even more extensive in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, where the proliferation of free-kicks has further altered the shape of the sport.
But while the SANZAR nations struggle to attract fans, the northern hemisphere is enjoying an unprecedented boom in popularity that runs from club to Test level.
Most of the Premiership directors of rugby attending Wednesday’s launch expressed diplomatic indifference to outright opposition when discussing the ELVs.
But Jones was the most vociferous in arguing a sport in such rude health should not be tampered with.
“Just have a look at what the World Cup has done in Europe. Rugby in France is so big now – they had four club games with 80,000 crowds last season,” he said.
“Rugby in France is going through the roof because the World Cup was so successful.
“Watch Bath against Wasps in January – it was one of the best games I’ve ever seen. There were unbelievable skills levels on show.
“It had everything. If a game is played well and refereed well then there is nothing wrong with it. If you play the game well then it becomes a spectacle.
“If you try to make it a spectacle first and foremost, then you get a simplistic version.”Tweet