Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Rugby rule changes misplaced

The promotion of players like Damian McKenzie shows rugby rule changes are misguided. Photo / Getty
The promotion of players like Damian McKenzie shows rugby rule changes are misguided. Photo / Getty

Rugby keeps tampering with the rules that don't matter and ignores the self assessments that do.

It looks at half-empty stands and then zeroes in on law 43, sub section 8, clause 2. Maybe it will look at a just-out Nielsen survey exposing declining rugby interest and fiddle with the offside law. Hold that maul. Raise that scrum. We know what the people want.

Rugby's latest experiment is a scoring system being trialed in the Heartland championship, as if an extra point for a try will change anything.

How many more tries do we need? There were eight in the latest match between the Chiefs and Brumbies. How many more points do we need? There was an average well over 50 scored in each of the latest round of Super Rugby games. Who could complain about the way teams like the Highlanders and Hurricanes played last year, or about the promotion of players such as Nehe Milner-Skudder and Damian McKenzie.

What more do you want? Sure, there are stoppages, but that's rugby. The ball is in play more in league and football, but that doesn't always mean it's always doing something more interesting. American football plays to packed houses and the Super Bowl stops many nations, despite the game organising more stoppages than the old Cook Strait seafarers' union.

Rugby is what it is and what lies in the heart, not the rule book, dictates how it is played. The Chiefs love speed and tricky runners, and find ways to use the exciting players they recruit and develop. At the moment, they are using two brilliant first receiver options in Aaron Cruden and McKenzie to bamboozle opponents. Dave Rennie's Chiefs are exceptional, but by the same token, no sport needs everyone playing the same way.

The Chiefs are running riot on the field, but they run the other way off it, which is typical of the national game.

Rugby has never engaged properly with the people, the way professional sport around the world finds ways of doing, one way or another. It's all so dammed serious, and not something to have a bit of fun with.

Those same freewheeling Chiefs put on the brakes when you knock on their door. I approached them this week about a piece looking at their snaring of the brilliant McKenzie, the Southlander who starred for Christ's College in the heart of Crusaders territory.

Back came a curt email. They'd "had a chat internally and at this stage we won't be providing any comment on Damian's recruitment up here as it's commercially sensitive". Hell, why not throw in the privacy laws. Don't call us, we'll call you, they concluded. As for talking to Damian himself about the inner workings of the big shift north, I didn't bother asking again.

Other journos recalled that after the Chiefs' breakthrough 2012 Super Rugby final victory over the Sharks in Hamilton, they put up the mighty total of two players for interviews and one of those was noted for being an extremely awkward speaker. Curb the enthusiasm troops.

Isolated incidents? They don't give the whole story, and there will be exceptions to the rule. But rugby is so complacent and reticent. The bugger off culture from amateur days has remained so ingrained that professionalism in New Zealand rugby could actually be rated as an amazing failure. The big dog is a fat cat which thinks it is entitled to all the cream and basically gets enough of it, thanks to the mighty All Blacks.

Which brings me to Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Two great players who said absolutely nothing of note throughout their entire careers - humility overriding any urge to be interesting - suddenly burst into opinionated life at the prompting of the Prime Minister. One friend in a very high place got more out of the deadly duo than all the fans and media received over the previous 15-odd years. It's the unwritten law of aloof silence that rugby needs to change.

Ordinary blokes
Speaking of the Prime Minister...or maybe not. Were McCaw and Carter dealing with our PM or an ordinary geezer when they received txt messages about the flag debate. John Key's chief of staff Wayne Eagleson told the Herald it was " unclear whether Mr Key was texting in his role as Prime Minister, or in some other capacity which would mean the text messages were private".

This could be taken further. McCaw and Carter were not famous ex-All Blacks eagerly grasping their phones - they were in their roles as simple country lads when those text messages came through. This was a case of three ordinary blokes trying to change the world. Quite touching really.

Must see
A film recommendation...seek out Fastball, the movie about American baseball's speediest pitchers which boldly attempts to answer the question: "Who was the fastest thrower of them all?" It includes some priceless old clips of attempts to measure the fastball, including one involving a cop on a motorcycle. The film makers intelligently crunch the numbers without crushing the stories, although they don't go deep on any of the pitchers. As for the answer, and they do come up with one, I won't spoil the plot.

Another planet
Surprise surprise, the NRL's new bunker is under siege from coaches and fans unhappy with video decisions. Video ref central looks like something from Star Trek, and the NRL bosses were on another planet if they thought the sniping against match officials would end.

- NZ Herald

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