For the first 20 minutes of the Super Rugby final, the Crusaders were getting absolutely bashed by the Jaguares’ linespeed, and the Kiwis were turning over the ball.
Then there was a water break at the end of the first quarter and the Crusaders got together for a team talk. From that moment on there was a definite change in tactics. Instead of getting hammered with ball in hand, the Crusaders decided to kick when they were between the 10-metre lines, and that’s where they got their attacking ball – from Jaguares knock-ons or penalties, or they won it in the air.
The Kiwis used box-kicks and one of those set up the breakdown turnover that led to Codie Taylor’s try. The Crusaders won their 10th title by kicking instead of keeping the ball in hand – they finished the game with less possession and territory, and won.
That reminded me of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. In the last eight games at the tournament (the four quarter-finals, the two semis, the third-place playoff and the final) the team that had less ball won seven of eight matches.
As was the case in 1995, South Africa prevailed in a final where no tries were scored, and here we are 12 years later, in a competition that prides itself on tries, and only one try was scored in the final by the team that had less ball.
You’d think that having more of the ball would give you a greater chance of winning the game, but it’s not the case and probably won’t be the case at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
So how do you change that to give the game a different shape? If you want to make it a possession-based game, then you want to reward the team that has the ball in their hands by making it easier for them to get into try-scoring positions.
With this in mind, I think it’s fantastic that World Rugby is considering implementing the 50/22 rule. Based on a similar law in Rugby League, the 50/22 rule would award a lineout to the kicking team if they successfully kick from their own half and the ball rolls into touch inside their opponent’s 22.
The threat of conceding an attacking lineout would motivate the defending team to deploy ‘goalkeepers’ on either side of the field to make sure the 50/22 kicks are covered.
And if you’ve got two goalkeepers deep, a scrumhalf covering chips and a fullback in the middle, that leaves you with 11 guys in the defensive line which means the attack would have a big numerical advantage.
Supporters groan when their team ‘kicks the ball away’, but a team could get possession and territory with 50/22 kicks.
On its own, the 50/22 would inevitably create a game where teams just keep peppering the 22 for attacking lineouts, so to add some balance I’d suggest the following law change: the receiving team can mark a kick launched from their opponent’s half for a free-kick anywhere on their opponent’s 10-metre line.
So, if you catch such a kick on the full and mark it, you could opt for a scrum, or quick-tap anywhere on your opponent’s 10-metre line. This will make the kicking team think twice before they give the ball away.
It would completely change the shape of the game and create something that’s never been seen before. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened – consider that lifting jumpers at the lineout used to be illegal, wingers used to throw in at the lineout until someone worked out they were more useful in the backline, and penalties kicked into touch used to give the receiving team the feed.
The shape of the game needs to change. Currently, you don’t get rewarded for having the ball, you get rewarded for having field position and defending.
Rugby should be a possession-based game, otherwise what’s the point of having a ball?