Michael Burgess ' Opinion

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess at the Rugby World Cup: Get a move on you halfbacks, for ruck's sake

Slow ball is bad for the game. Photo / Getty Images
Slow ball is bad for the game. Photo / Getty Images

Of the many irritating aspects of rugby's set of complex rules and interpretations, there is one that stands out - the halfback who stands behind a ruck for what seems like an interminable amount of time, with the ball sitting on the ground and the opposition essentially powerless.

It has become the new, surreptitious way to wind down the clock and this anomaly will come into sharper focus in the knockout stages. Imagine a Rugby World Cup semifinal or final. Three minutes on the clock, one team ahead by a few points. Instead of a frantic finale, the more likely scenario is one team killing time.

The halfback is able to waste 10, 20 or even 30 seconds with the ball sitting dead at the back of the ruck. Three or four instances of that, a few "pick and goes" and the game is over.

In almost every other team sport there is a genuine contest for possession right until the end; it means the trailing team will usually get one or two last shots, but currently rugby's laws and interpretations predicate against that.

One of the greatest thrills in sport is the last-second comeback, the triumph against all odds, whether it is the impossible buzzer-beating three-pointer in basketball, a last-minute bomb in league, a last leap into netball's goal circle or a final desperate attack in football.

Who could forget the Warriors' Houdini act against the Tigers recently or Winston Reid's late, late goal for the All Whites against Slovakia at the World Cup?

Unfortunately rugby's rules have the potential to kill a frenetic finish. Dreams will die hard for various teams over the next two weeks but it could be slow torture rather than death or glory. With so much at stake, it is immensely frustrating for supporters as they watch the number nine whittle time away.

It seems equivalent to a football goalkeeper being allowed to hold on to the ball for a minute before kicking it (the rule currently allows six seconds), or markers in league unable to approach the dummy half until he scoops up the ball.

The current situation in rugby brings an unfortunate parallel with American football, where on occasions the quarterback will purposely drop to one knee as he receives the ball from the snap in the final stages of a match.

As soon as the knee touches the ground the 'tackle' is deemed to be made. In this way a team ahead on the scoreboard can kill the last few minutes of a match, particularly if the opposing side has no time-outs left.

The solution for this situation is surely use it or lose it. Teams would then be forced to run the ball, through the backs or forwards, or kick it.

This would give their opponents at least a fair shot at possession and a chance to create their own destiny. It is sport after all and all we want is a sporting chance.

- Herald on Sunday

Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday. He was named the 2013 New Zealand football writer of the year and was a finalist in the Sports Reporter of the year at the 2014 Canon Media Awards.

Read more by Michael Burgess

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