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Matt Williams: Dangerous tactics will continue until we start to hit coaches where it hurts

Rushing the defence and contesting high cross-field kicks should be prohibited to create a safer game

When the news spread that inspirational Wallaby captain Michael Hooper had stood in front of his team-mates and told them that his mindset was not in the right place to lead them against Argentina the following day, the entire rugby community recognised this as a hugely courageous act.

Michael spoke his truth saying that he was not okay, and more power to him.

Along with the brilliant French captain Jean-Pierre Rives, Hooper is the greatest diminutive open-side flanker to have played across the last 50 years. Off the field, Michael is a gregarious and courteous role model, emulating the admired leadership of the great John Eales.

Hooper’s career has had to endure the unfortunate timing of being the outstanding player of his generation while leading historically poor Waratahs and Wallabies teams.


As the second youngest Wallaby captain of all time, his situation is a reminder that from the outside, professional sport looks glamorous, but the price individuals pay to follow their dreams is sometimes exceptionally high.

Even though he was not on the field, the man nicknamed “Super Dooper” inspired his fellow Wallabies to a bonus-point win on the road.

In a game where both the Wallabies and the Pumas attempted to play with positive energy, it was more than frustrating that in the opening 20 minutes there were more screeching whistles than a departing steam train. A litany of highly technical, pedantic penalties ruptured the expectations of the game.

While both teams did produce a few patches of brilliance, which produced some excellent tries, in reality there were far too many long stoppages for repetitive shots at penalty goals, time-wasting scrums and endless lineout mauls.

The greatest example of last weekend’s pedantic officiating was in the Mbombela Stadium, when the Springboks centre Damien de Allende was outrageously penalised for being inside the five metres on his own team’s scrum feed.

The look on de Allende’s face was the same as on millions of faces across the world. None of us had ever seen an attacking player being penalised for encroaching inside the five metres from an attacking scrum. As the Kiwis gained three points for the ridiculous decision, even they were shaking their heads.

However, it is not only referees whose behaviour has been poor. Like tax accountants, coaches are exploiting every unintentionally created loophole in the laws to gain an advantage for their team.

All the coaches are using time-wasting tactics at the scrum and lineout by empowering their tight five players to disgracefully fake injuries. Kneeling down, acting hurt, bending the safety laws to force the referee to whistle a stoppage. At the Academy Awards, Chris Rock had more real injuries than these guys.

The fake injury allows the tight five forwards to catch their breath because the poor little darlings are all puffed out.

Time-wasting is now on such a monumental scale that set timing clocks that will force the forwards to assemble have become essential.

Rugby needs to speed up the game by keeping the ball in play for longer periods of time. Scrums and lineouts must assemble faster and the ball be put into play without delay.

What has also become crystal clear across the summer tours and last weekend’s opening Rugby Championship matches is that the coaching tactics of rushing defence and the high cross-field kicks, which isolate the defending fullback, are a major contributing factor to the flood of red cards for head contact.

Both of these coaching tactics create dangerously uncontrolled physical contests and must end.

By its very definition, the priority of rushing defence is to rush up on the attackers and place their skills under pressure by denying them time and space.

Players have always been coached to move forward and take space. However, in the past, coaches emphasised staying connected with their team-mates in the defensive line, before each player stopped going forward and rose up on their toes, like an agile boxer, into a technically correct and safe position to tackle the fast-moving attacker.

Rushing defensive systems demand that the players sprint forward, diminishing their ability to perform a tackle technique that is safe for the attacker and the tackler.

The poor tackle technique that the rushing defence philosophy creates is responsible for the rapid increase in shoulder-to-head contacts and is almost totally responsible for the sickening head clashes we have witnessed in recent years.

In July, the New Zealand prop Angus Ta’avao was coached to sprint forward in defence and take space and time away from the Irish attackers. When Garry Ringrose produced some brilliant footwork, Ta’avao was running so fast that he simply did not have the skill to adjust his body and collided head-to-head with Ringrose.

Those who coached that defensive system are as equally guilty as the player and both should share the blame and punishment. Ta’avao got the three weeks’ suspension he deserved. The New Zealand defensive coach was unpunished and taught the same technique at the next training session.

Equally culpable are those who are coaching the dangerous contesting of cross-field bombs aimed at isolating the defending fullback.

As they have done for many years, the Springboks repeatedly used this mind-numbing, highly-negative play against New Zealand last week. The outrageous recklessness of the uncontrolled mid-air contest by Springboks winger Kurt-Lee Arendse sent Beauden Barrett dangerously cartwheeling into the turf. This was the supreme example of what must be countered with changes to both the law and coaching behaviour through sanctions.

After the horror scene of Barrett slamming neck first into the ground, New Zealand coach Ian Foster called on World Rugby for more protection from lawmakers for players catching the ever-increasing number of bombs. Player safety must be prioritised over coaching tactics.

A simple law change that would prohibit players chasing a kick from contesting in the air would create a tactical change and provide player safety. The cross-field bomb would not be contestable, so the attackers would not use it.

A new policy that would introduce sanctions aimed at changing coaches’ behaviour is also required. Coaches are the drivers of players’ behaviour and currently are immune from any red cards their coaching might produce.

While players are being red-carded in unprecedented numbers, their behaviour is not changing because coaches are implementing the same dangerous coaching techniques week after week at training, and administrators are not forcing the coaches to change.

Heavy monetary fines for any red-carded player, his team-mates and all the coaching staff need to be introduced. The union or club administration should also be punished by having the team’s competition points reduced for games that have produced red card offences.

Hurting hip pockets and taking away trophies will drive coaches to change.

Ahead of round two of the Rugby Championship, time-wasting, pedantic refereeing and dangerous coaching tactics are sadly dominating. All of which are the foundations on which the Springboks have built their empire.

It seems too much to hope for that some entertaining rugby might suddenly appear.