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Johann van Graan: Rugby must simplify laws to ‘protect gladiator sport’

Bath head coach Johann van Graan before during the Gallagher Premiership match at Twickenham Stoop, London.
'This game is incredibly unique. It's one of the last gladiator sports remaining,' Johann van Graan said - PA/Ben Whitley

Bath head coach Johann van Graan has called on rugby’s authorities to stop constantly fiddling with rugby’s laws if they are to protect one of “the last gladiator sports”.

Van Graan drew a line under the controversial incident that saw Harlequins’ Irne Herbst prematurely return from the sin-bin in Bath’s 40-36 Premiership defeat at the Stoop last week. “Once the decision is made you live with the decision,” Van Graan said. “Life is not perfect and I have got huge respect for referees. Things happen very quickly and you’ve also got to take into consideration that we’re all human.”

Yet while Van Graan was happy to take the moral high ground on that issue, he shares the concerns of Rob Baxter that the rapid turnover of laws is undermining both referees as well as the appeal of the sport. “Totally unrelated to this [Herbst] incident, I do believe we’ve got to simplify the game,” Van Graan said. “I believe we should not keep chopping and changing it, we should look after this game of ours.

Rugby Harlequins v Bath Rugby - Gallagher Premiership The referee Anthony Woodthorpe is captured with Herbst
The incident involving Irne Herbst was a major talking point - TNT Sports

“This game is incredibly unique. It’s one of the last gladiator sports remaining. That’s why people love it and why there’s so much emotion involved. Different countries and clubs play different ways. Scrum, maul, lineout, counter attack, kicking... there is beauty in all of it. We have to look after the game so, in my view, we’ve got to simplify it and look after it.

“We are guided by World Rugby who is the ultimate decision-maker. What I love about the game is that there’s a law-book. Let’s respect what’s in the law book. I’ll give a simple example. If that means the offside line is behind the hindmost foot, let’s just stick to that. If there’s a definition of a maul, a ruck or a scrum, let’s stick to the law. That’s sometimes what we miss, the [existing] law. Yes, we’ve got to be adaptable. That’s why I respect match officials because it’s an incredibly difficult sport to referee.”

Meanwhile, Saracens have confirmed that England second row Maro Itoje will be available for their last-16 match away to Bordeaux this weekend. Itoje has not featured for Saracens since returning from the Six Nations nursing a minor knee injury, but his return will act as a boost for Saracens after flanker Andy Christie was ruled out of the remainder of the season with a broken arm.

“He should be around and fine for selection,” Kevin Sorrell, the backs coach, said. “It is his experience in those big games. He has played in finals, semi-finals and World Cups and he has experience of games in hostile environments when the crowd are whipped up and it is a frenzy. It is how you deal with that and try to keep your composure there, it is always good having a senior player back in there who has got those experiences.”

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