Anyone with their ear to the rugby world has heard comments about the game going soft.

Try telling loose-forwards like Lions captain Sam Warburton who retired because of his cumulative injuries or All Black Sam Cane who faces a lengthy recovery after surgery to repair his broken neck.

The removal of rucking, trials to lower legal tackles to the nipple line and bloated touring squads are issues which rouse rugby voices who want to rail against the lack of starch in the game.

That accusation is as wide of the mark as those who think Stephen Donald's penalty missed in the 2011 World Cup final.

Removing rucking has made rugby more dangerous at the breakdown where players are vulnerable as they drive in to support or effect a turnover while rivals use their frames as missiles and inflict damage when they lead with their shoulders rather than their arms.


The difference is often hard for officials to detect because of the increase in phases, speed and defensive prowess in the sport.

Often there is a marginal difference between a high shot and applause for a ball and all tackle as Jerome Kaino found out this week when he was banned for five weeks for his hit on old foe Jamie Roberts in European rugby. Opinion remained split after that verdict and further evidence for those who are pushing for a reduced legal tackle line round the chest.

There was similar division this week when the All Blacks unveiled a list of 51 players to deal with the five test sequence on their trip to Japan and Europe.

"Jeez that's enough for three rugby teams with a few over," was a line of lament from those shackled to the era before the 1996 arrival of pay for play.

Even then they'd argue, the All Blacks took squads with about 36 players for longer and more difficult tours to South Africa in 1996 and Europe the next year.

Point out that system allowed the test players and the coaching staff better preparation for the internationals which was a similar philosophy behind the latest All Black plans which also tied in with a longer perspective on the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The professional rugby season is now so long it's no wonder the coaches feel they need more players to cope. They can take as many as they want, that's their world but their pleas for help from the taxpayers should get a Kaino clout.

NZ Rugby is a sports business with a strong financial base and levels of sponsorship and it's up to them how they want to spend their money and how many staff they want to employ.


If they led the charge in the global corridors of power as strongly as they have on the field, they would call for a significant reduction in their annual schedule. The overload is damaging players and spectator interest.

Reduce the Super Rugby content and make every game more important for the players and the audiences, trim the international programme and let rugby and the participants breathe a little.

In many ways rugby has made rewarding progress across many levels in the game but sometimes it needs to take stock and smell the history lessons when crowds hankered for Super Rugby and international matches because they meant something.