Editorial: Muscular beasts of rugby here to stay

Old-timers will doubtless have a spot of sympathy for Hugo Porta, the hugely gifted first five-eighths who this week lamented the "war of muscles" in modern-day rugby.

The Argentine wants the game to go back to his playing days when backs were admired for their silky skills and flair, not their ability to overwhelm their opponents physically. This could be achieved, he suggested, by the International Rugby Board using well-known former players "to help develop and preserve rugby".

It is a nice notion for those who dislike the barging tactics of the modern game. But it is also hopelessly idealistic. As with virtually any sport, professionalism has resulted in a quantum leap in the physical conditioning and preparation of rugby players.

So far has this gone that it is difficult to think of any rule tinkering that could reverse the trend. If there still remains a place for players like the Welsh winger Shane Williams, they are the exception, not the rule.

Porta alluded to the All Blacks, who Argentina will meet in next year's inaugural four-nations championship, as leaders of this trend. But they are far from alone. Also this week, Shaun Edwards, the defensive coach of Wales, suggested the Welsh would have beaten New Zealand if they had reached the World Cup final because their midfield backs would have been physically dominant.

Such thinking underlines the enormity of the task if Porta's project was ever enacted. For better or for worse, the game has evolved.

- Herald on Sunday

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