"Like watching two teams of robots going through the paces," was one assessment of Wales v England over the weekend, as the spectacle of rugby union was again the target of criticism.
But what can be done to improve the game and make it more entertaining? We asked our team of experts on what they would tweak or change. Let us know what you think below.
Reduce the first five penalty kicks at goal to two points
Test rugby union’s biggest problem at the minute is space. Or lack of it. Teams in possession of the ball are finding it more effective to kick it away and force errors in scoring areas of the pitch with an aggressive defensive line. So how do you create more space without reducing the numbers in each team?
The key is to increase the tempo of the game, which at present increasingly appears to be evolving into a stop-start affair similar to NFL, to tire players out. One way would be to introduce a time limit for line-out to be taken, from the moment the ball goes into touch.
A return to injury-only replacements would have an even greater effect. World Rugby are already reviewing a reduction from eight to six substitutes. Making players play for 80 minutes instead of 55 minutes would enable more space to be created in the final quarter, and also has the advantage of encouraging players to become lighter and more mobile, with sheer power no longer the decisive factor.
And what about using the penalty kick as an influencer to promote entertaining rugby. Encourage teams to be more attacking minded by reducing their first five penalty kicks at goal to two points. The next five could be worth three points and then to deter teams who are killing the game with a high penalty count, make the next five worth four points.
Allow players to express themselves
Sack the coaches. Or at the very least tell them to pipe down and stand at the back of the room while the players get on with it. There is no doubt that coaches have too much influence on game plans and overall strategies. Analysis shows that Test matches are won by the team with the best kicking strategy. So England kick. So England win. But there is another way. Do the Barbarians ever play boring rugby? Do the All Blacks (although they do kick a lot)? Give more rein to the players. They want to express themselves. And if you asked them to answer honestly, not one of them would choose to kick so much.
Bring in the 50-22 law
You may groan at suggesting a law change that would encourage more kicking, but I am convinced it is the best way of redressing the balance between attack and defence without fundamentally altering the nature of the contest, such as by reducing the number of players. Borrowed from rugby league, the 50-22 law would mean if a kick from a player’s own half bounces in the field of play before crossing the touchline inside the 22 then it would result in a lineout for the attacking team. As this is such a huge advantage it would encourage defending teams to drop players back to prevent the concession of an attacking lineout and would thus mean fewer defensive players in the frontline.
Penalise jackallers and police offside line
We need to lighten up. Bristol Bears and Wasps have just made the Premiership top four playing in an intricate, attractive manner. Japan shone at their Rugby World Cup.
You only need to watch the first 10 minutes of New Zealand’s win over Argentina on Saturday to appreciate that varied, fast-paced attack – comprising zig-zagging phase-play, options on both sides of breakdowns, clever chip kicks and slick handling – is still very possible in the Test arena.
Weather conditions and refereeing are two vital factors when it comes to the fluency of a game. Unless we are going to build more stadiums like the Principality in Cardiff and Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr, we should concentrate on the latter.
Jackallers should be penalised unless they are technically perfect and the offside line must be policed stringently. Quick, clean rucks need to be the aim so sides have more incentive to keep possession. After an early crackdown, officials have become lax on breakdown standards.
In the future, I would like to see the effect of 50-22 kicking rules and a limit on replacements. For now, there are controllables to control.
Cut subs from eight to five
A simple, and easily implementable, change that would make rugby more exciting is reducing the number of substitutions allowed per side from eight to five. Teams would still name eight substitutes, but only five can be introduced. The rationale behind this is two-fold. First, there will be an increased number of fatigued players on the pitch in the final quarter. This should create more space for attacking-minded players and help to negate the dominance of defence over attack. The second reason for this change is to improve the flow of the game.
As it stands, second halves become painfully disjointed with numerous pauses to replace players. Reducing this can only improve the spectacle.
Change interpretations that make kicking the easy choice
Reverse the strictness of the breakdown interpretations applied during the middle of the year.
While the intent was good, to clean up the ruck area and in theory produce quicker ball and therefore more attacking rugby, teams are now just living in fear, paranoid about carrying into contact and being turned over, conceding penalties within their own half and therefore ultimately points. As a result, they're desperate to get out of their own half and kicking is the easiest option.
Wales centre Nick Tompkins said after Saturday's loss to England: "We have to keep looking at these rules and making decisions to make sure everything is fluid and we should be able to change things, just as much as we bring them in we should be able to take them out." He's right.
Get rid of a wing
Rugby’s issues with replacements flooding the field and caterpillar rucks are well trodden and tweaks in that regard will have an effect, but not to the degree that is needed. Changing the lineout maul - currently rugby’s most one-sided and unfair facet - will contribute, too.
But for inherent change to the on-field product, modifications must stretch further. Does rugby need two wings? Get rid of one, leaving the solitary ‘wing’ to roam the field, and unlock a pocket of space that would change the entire dynamics of the ‘back three’. It might be a touch too avant garde, but a trial in one of the world’s lower-tier leagues would be fascinating.