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Kate Hawkesby: Rugby Union has to evolve

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Nov 2023, 8:36AM
Photo / Getty | File
Photo / Getty | File

Kate Hawkesby: Rugby Union has to evolve

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Wed, 1 Nov 2023, 8:36AM

Well, three days on from our loss at the Rugby World Cup and we’re still not over it... clearly. 

It’s still front-page news, the dissertations and opinions continue, disputes over how it was reffed, anger over the TMO and officiating of the game continue. But let’s face the hard facts: the best team won on the day.  

Painful as it is, relitigating red cards versus yellow ones as we might, hating the TMO as we all do... it doesn’t change the facts. The best team won on the day.  We couldn’t get our act together in a sloppy first half, we couldn’t pull it off in the second, we didn’t win.  

Sad but true.  

Death threats to Wayne Barnes and all the other nonsense which has come out of the loss is futile and detracts from the reality. Which is that beyond the nitpicking over all the minutiae of that one game, a broader conversation needs to be had around what’s happening to rugby.  

The Herald’s Luke Kirkness said, “Rugby union is facing a looming crisis. The game is losing its appeal with many turning to alternative sports like basketball due to perceived complexities and a lack of engagement.” And he’s dead right. A slow game, as I said after our loss, is a boring game and a switch off. Israel Dagg said it best – he didn’t mince his words about the final at half time. He said, “I’m honestly just fed up. And I know I’m gonna sound like a sore loser here, but …. we’re seeing a snore-fest out there.” And again, that was down to the slowness in general of the game now.  

Kirkness pointed out that while there’s “plenty of suggestion that New Zealand has fallen out of love with rugby, one of the sticking points is... how hard it is to understand and follow the game.”  

So is that it? We just need to simplify it again and just let the players play? Is it TMO changes? Changes to the card system? The points system? The rules themselves? The culture? Maybe a combination of all of those things.  

Whatever it is, we do need to look at it, and seriously. You can’t lose all those eyeballs and have large numbers of people switching off, and just disregard it. That’s an arrogance that takes you nowhere. The game has to evolve and change with its audience. It is, at the end of the day, entertainment after all.  

But here’s what we know is already changing: they’ve appointed a new coach —scandalously while the old one was still in the job— and there’s new coaching staff so arguably new direction already.  

All the calls for heads to roll, most of those have now been rolled. Then there’s the team, many departing and going different directions so changes afoot there too. But it doesn’t change the fact that the rules are now so cumbersome, it’s a turn off. That’s the real challenge ahead of the rugby union, that’s the real worry.  

I’m sure they’re hoping that a charismatic character like Razor is going to bring some zing and give the game a bit of an image makeover – you know, much beloved coach, in his long awaited and aspired-to hot seat with all this new energy and new focus. The Rugby Union will be hoping he attracts a certain amount of buzz and new eyeballs.  

But that sizzle will only last so long... at the end of the day the game itself has to change and grow and evolve with the fans or it’s going to leave them all behind. 

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