Telegraph readers' nine best suggestions for improving rugby – and four bad ones

Danny Care clears the ball from a caterpillar ruck
Something needs to be done to neutralise caterpillar rucks - Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images

Brian Moore’s recent column for Telegraph Sport was on the law changes he would make to rugby.

Tweaks to the 50:22 and amending ruck laws were just some of the ideas that he believes could transform rugby.

As you can imagine, it sparked a lot of debate amongst Telegraph reader in the comments section below his piece. So we got our rugby writer Charles Richardson to see if your own suggestions pass muster...

Nine that might work

A change in referee attitudes

Andrew Cook: You don’t really need to change laws, it’s all a question of refereeing attitude. The main reason for the preponderance of kicking is the risk of getting turned over at the breakdown. The main cause of this is hair-trigger referees who favour the defenders/jackallers and make the breakdown a no-go area. The attitude needs to change.

You are on to something here, Andrew, except it is not the attitude of the referees which needs to change, but those that manage them: rugby’s law-makers. Referees are only the enforcers – of law, interpretation, and attitude – and not the creators. That is a direct response to your bugbear of the breakdown. Where referees’ attitudes might change is in the persistent coaching of players.

No more jumping for high balls

Andrew Cook: The other tactic that needs to be stopped is jumping for the high kick. Leads to too many interminable TMO rewinds seeing if there was some tiny touch to the head. Trying to decipher if the player had a ‘reasonable chance of catching the ball’ wastes time and often randomly leads to cards which further disrupts the game. It is also a high safety risk activity.

Bold and innovative – but I don’t hate it! I’m not sure how much material effect it would have on rugby’s sporting fabric, but I agree it certainly could improve as a spectacle. The only issue is that jumping for a ball is such a natural (re)action. And how would you define a jump in law? Always keeping one foot on the floor, perhaps?

Free-kicks, not penalties, for scrum infringements

Andrew Cook: Also stop penalties for technical scrum infringements, just a free-kick. Too many teams secure the ball then hold it in for way longer than necessary to try to milk a penalty from the ref. The scrum is merely a mechanism to get the ball back in play, make the scrum-half use it or lose possession to the other team... oh, and get them to put the ball in straight. Measured with a theodolite at youth level/local (at least in my area), totally ignored at ‘Elite level’... weird.

No arguments here. This is an easy tweak that could be implemented almost immediately.

No penalties for failed interceptions

John Prodger: I have always thought a penalty awarded for a failed interception to be excessively harsh. What is wrong with a plain old knock on?

The definition of failed interceptions/deliberate knock-ons is too ambiguous at the minute, I would agree. I think rugby has found a decent enough middle ground, whereby a player reaching with two hands would get the benefit of the doubt. However, I do think that deliberate knock-ons are treated too harshly overall. They are seldom “deliberate”; seldom does a player cynically slap the ball down. When they do, that should be penalised, of course. I think the law itself is sensible but the referees have not quite found the silver-bullet interpretation yet. Too often players are penalised – sin-binned, even – for genuine catch attempts.

Kill off caterpillar rucks

Liam Melia: Rather than give a free-kick, simply allow the referee to declare the ball to be ‘out’ of the ruck. That would prevent a stoppage, but also present a clear and present risk to scrum-halves rolling the ball past extra forwards at the back of the ruck. If the ref sees a team setting up a caterpillar, he simply calls that the ball is out. That would soon put a stop to it without creating another messy rule which refs will be reluctant to enforce.

Something certainly should be done to neutralise/quicken caterpillar rucks. I’m not sure that saying that the ball is ‘out’ when it is not is the answer, however. It would be bedlam. An easy fix would be for referees to enforce the five-second rule more strictly; and, even, have World Rugby reduce it to three.

Simplifying the disciplinary process

Graham Smyth: For red card offences, other than a blatant punch or kick, 10 mins in the bin, but fine them very harshly, 50 per cent or more of their match fee plus a five-match minimum ban, and no mitigation, no lawyers allowed either. Within a few months that would go a long way to solving the issue of head contact, without ruining the spectacle with 13 v 15 matches.

Somewhat similarly to limiting replacements (covered below), a tweak needs to happen in this domain, but rugby is yet to find the silver bullet. Abolishing red cards entirely is one swingeing option – allowing the citing commissioner to administer all punishments after the match; 20-minute red cards have been trialled in the southern hemisphere but were not deemed effective enough for this year’s World Cup. Perhaps the answer is that a player who is red carded departs for the whole match, but after 20 minutes the offending team can bring a replacement on in their stead? Fundamentally, rugby’s executives and law-makers must make prioritising rugby as a spectacle their New Year’s resolution. Not above all else, but it must be a priority when decisions are made.

Stop lifting at line-outs

Francis Moran: No, they do not stabilise by putting hands on the jumping players, they lift them. Shorten the line-out to previous rules as this would give the backs more space to run with ball in hand. The game used to be about running with ball in hand. It should be steered back to that style and negate the muscle power and big hits which currently dominate.

Again, this would be quite drastic. I’m not in favour of it, per se, but I would not mind seeing a trial match with professional players not lifting at line-outs. It would certainly be fun – and messy. It will never happen, of course, but rugby is missing a little chaos. It has become routine. Perhaps abolishing choreographed line-outs might be the answer. It would depower the maul, too.

Ways to discourage kicking

LE Thomas: Change the law so the only player who can put teammates onside after a kick is the player who kicked the ball, so until the kicker has got upfield to the ball, everyone in front of the kick is still offside.

Intriguing! I understand the aim but the main drawback would surely be cross-field kicks? They are a true skill and deliver veritable excitement. This law would effectively render them impossible, as the kicker would have to advance after kicking so that his chaser on the touchline could proceed towards the ball. And, if you’re saying that the chasers are onside if they’re behind the kicker but they are unable to play others onside in front of them, it would become even more confusing for the officials.

Reduce the number of subs permitted

M Lewis: Two substitutions would mean that 13 players would have to play 80 minutes. To do this they would have to be smaller (props only train to play a maximum 60 minutes) which would reduce the physicality of some of the tackles making it a safer game to play.

This is more complicated than often it is given it credit for. I agree that something needs to be done regarding replacements in rugby. There are myriad options, none of which are perfect. Injuries-only? Teams will play the system. Only two replacements allowed? What happens for injuries, HIA, blood – and front row (to avoid the dreaded uncontested scrums)? One simple solution might be, seeing as it is becoming more and more fashionable to have a 6:2 split on the bench, to reduce matchday squads back to 22, but with three front-row players.

Four that wouldn’t work

Provide territory from ball-in-hand play

Mr Smith: Majority of other minor offences in defence to be punished by sending the offending team back 10 yards and giving the other side a tap-and-go free-kick. Penalties only for deliberate and serious fouls.

Union is already closer to its cousin, league, than ever. This would shorten the gap even further.

Reduce teams to 13 men

James Calhoun: The pitch is effectively smaller than it was with fitter and faster players and match-day squads have to be huge with 15 players on the pitch and replacements. Reducing the number of players to 13 creates more space on the pitch and increases income per player over time or reduces costs. It would still be rugby union just as Sevens is.

Ibid. See above.

Change ruck rules

James Calhoun: Maybe everyone in a ruck has to bind onto at least two players?

I understand the primary objective – create more space on the field – but enforcing that would be utter chaos (with referees already grappling with the laws and their interpretations). And what if there were not two players to bind onto? The players would have to wait for others to arrive. Quick-ruck ball would be consigned to the history books and, again, the slow breakdowns would take rugby union ever closer to league.

No substitutes at all

Chris Cotterell: If a team loses a player to injury the opposition loses the player in the same position.

All scrum-halves mysteriously departing ‘injured’ when they face France or Toulouse?

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