Tuesday, May 20th, 2008...10:07 am

The effect of removing rucking is still with us today.

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Source: RIP rucking — and rugby – Andrew Logan

I was sitting in the sun recently, dreaming idly, when I started trying to remember the last time I saw a real, solid, honest-to-goodness ruck in a game of rugby.

My mind turned the years over like pages on one of those desk calendars and eventually I had to admit that, aside from some noteworthy rucks in various great games I had watched on video (the 1988 19-19 Bledisloe Cup draw at Ballymore had some fantastic footwork), I couldn’t think of one.

“Hang on” I hear you say, “there were hundreds of rucks in the Super 14 last week!”. But I say no way Jose.

When I say ruck, I don’t mean a maul that’s on the ground. I mean ruck as in rucking. As in rucked. As in feet churning over some unfortunate lying on a ball until he gets spat out the back like chaff from a haybaler. Jersey torn, stripes criss-crossing his back like a whipping from some biblical scourger, and hobbling to the next breakdown as though he’d just gone a few rounds with a rotary hoe.

If the defining characteristic of rugby is the contest for the ball, then the most defining characteristic of that contest was the use of feet on an opponent who was obstructing the passage of that ball.

The ruck was quintessentially rugby, and it meant that there were actually only two types of players in the game – the ruckers, and the ruckees.

The ruckers were invariably forwards. Very often loose forwards who were charged with freeing up the ball for their backs. The ruck was as close as any sport came to allowing the players to deal out justice to opponents, and generally the referee stayed well out of it, reasoning that if someone was lying close enough to the ball to cop a shoeing, they probably deserved it.

This is turn created a race of maniacs for whom the ruck was a place to show their daring to the world. Impervious to pain, and feeling that they hadn’t really done anything unless they threw themselves into a 16-footed tree-shredder, breakaways the world over were the benchmarks by which a willingness to absorb punishment was measured. The ruck was their home, and they inhabited it gladly.

Backs mainly stayed out of it, but were occasionally drawn in as collateral damage. A memorable anecdote from All Black winger Stu Wilson had him copping a stray boot and finishing a match with a single livid mark on his ribcage. Anxious to show off his trophy, and his toughness, Wilson entered the shower, where he hissed in a deep breath to draw attention from his fellows, and then turned so that his ruck mark could be fully observed. In the act of turning, he says, he was just in time to see the legendary All Black flanker Mark “Cowboy” Shaw enter the area, covered from shoulder to thigh in bleeding gouges. Shaw turned on the hot water and soaped up with nary a whimper. Wilson remembers skulking away without another word. The ruck was no place for the fainthearted.

However, as much as the ruck was a frontier where the laws where barely observed, it filled a useful function. In the old days, it was simple. The players policed the ruck, and if you wanted to lie over the ball, you would pay the price. The referee was there simply to make sure that the unofficial rules of rucking were observed, and that heads were left alone. This meant that ruck ball was quick ball, continuous ball, and aside from offside or foul play, ruck penalties were relatively rare.

When feet in the ruck were gradually outlawed, in the lead-up to the 1999 World Cup, the game began to grapple with the fallout.

All of a sudden, games were being decided by penalty shootouts because players knew that lying on the ball, particularly in defensive situations, would often result in 3 points rather than 7. And they wouldn’t have a boot laid on them anyway.

Chris Hewett, rugby writer for The Independent in London, said in 1999: “While no one in authority is willing to say as much, the ruck — the single most dynamic mechanism in the attacking armoury, and the phase that provides union with a continuity unique among handling games — will effectively be outlawed during this year’s showpiece event because the administrators fear the negative impact of “boots on bodies” on the TV audience.”.

So television has become the master of rugby, not once, but twice, because the demise of the ruck as we used to know it has now led to the ELV’s in an attempt to remove the blight on the game of kicking from breakdown penalties and return continuity to the sport.

The continuity has come at a price. Phil Kearns at a recent Super 14 preview function was asked: “What differences will we see this year with the new ELV’s?”. His answer? “Skinny players”. Kearns was not joking. The fact remains that under the new laws, players need to be fitter than they have ever been before, and the balance has decisively swung away from the strongman set piece specialist like Andy Sheridan, to a loose utility who can run all day, like Stephen Hoiles.

This is not to denigrate Hoiles, who is a wonderful player. But it is the first step on the road to uniformity in player shape, whereby we lose yet another defining characteristic of rugby.

Which brings me back to that most definitive element of rugby, the ruck.

Had feet in the ruck not been outlawed (under duress from those paying for TV rights), then continuity at the non-maul breakdown would have been maintained. The penalty shootout in its awful modern form would not have evolved to put pressure on the existing laws, and some of the ELV’s at least (certainly free kicks instead of long-arm penalties at the ruck) would never have needed to have been conceived.

Consequently, the quick tap would not have come into vogue with the ELV’s and rugby may have remained Marxist, drawing “from each according to his abilities”, rather than creating die Herrenrasse (the master race) of super fit, super lean automatons.

It is hard to argue with the weekend comments from Springbok half Fourie du Preez: “Rugby is now a different game. It’s like Sevens, with constant counter-attacking. There are not enough set-pieces,” Du Preez said. “It’s less enjoyable to watch and to play.” Even Lote Tuqiri compared the Waratahs vs Hurricanes game to a touch football match.

Rugby is flirting with danger in changing it’s very fabric. It is losing the elements which made it unique in the first place. Sure, restore the continuity in rugby. But do it by maintaining the essence of the sport, rather than playing with the laws.

Bring back feet in the ruck.

MY COMMENTS: Very true, if the reader is over 40 years of age then you will agree with the above, if under you probably have no idea what a real ruck looks like. The rules changes since the death of rucking have not been an adequate replacement. Bl**dy rugby administrator fools, where is Louis Lyut when you need him !

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