Irish camp thrown by blurring of line between codes
Published 16/03/2010 | 05:00
There may be only 10 miles of coastline separating the Irish team's leafy HQ from IRB headquarters in Dublin's city centre, but yesterday provided further evidence of the alarming gulf that exists between rugby union's players and administrators.
And, if the honest expressions of two men involved in Ireland's Grand Slam glory are to be respected, then those who cherish the integral elements of rugby union may justifiably fear for the game they love.
For now, it may no longer be possible to distinguish the crucial difference between rugby union and rugby league -- the contest for the ball at the tackle area.
And it will radically alter the way Ireland play the game -- although intellect should aid in adapting to a situation where seemingly all parity of esteem has been removed from the tackle zone.
In the opinion of many within the Six Nations -- and the IRFU's referees' boss Owen Doyle has detected widespread anguish amongst Ireland's neighbours -- the IRB's insistence on applying a stricter interpretation of the tackle law is as flawed as the cack-handed manner by which it was introduced.
"As we all know the rule hasn't changed, there is just a stricter interpretation of the rule," said Ireland manager Paul McNaughton in Killiney yesterday. "What we're mainly concerned about is the fact that this stricter interpretation is being enforced in the middle of a tournament.
"You can't just, the night before the game, or even a week before a game, change everything about the way you play. I mean, we like to play football on our feet, hold the player up and keep the ball off the ground.
"It's been an important part of our game, in terms of winning turnovers, and it's played an important role in our success. Now this could damage that aspect of it. We'll have to adapt.
"We don't make the rules and we're not trying to make the rules. We're just very disappointed, to say the least, that the interpretations were changed in the middle of the (Six Nations) tournament.
"It won't dominate training. We'll just have to tweak it; we can't change the way we play overnight. The change in interpretation of the rule is going to have long-term effects on rugby, but that's not something we can be concerned with. We have a match to play on Saturday.
"If you bring it to its full extent, you'll have a situation where you can't get the ball off the opposition. They changed the law regarding to sealing off so that you could stop pick-and-drives.
"But if you referee this rule as strictly as they are starting to do, it's going to be very difficult to have a proper contest at the breakdown.
"We don't like the stricter interpretation, but that's a matter for the IRFU down the line really. It'll go back to the committee guys in the IRB and it will be down to which countries like it and which don't."
Backs coach Alan Gaffney was stark in his assessment. "There is a real danger that it could become like rugby league. That is the comment I've heard, the initial reaction, although we haven't given it much thought.
"Certain sides will benefit from this and doubtless that's a real reason why this is happening. I just want to see a fair contest at the breakdown. After that, we're fine. The way it's heading at the moment, it's weighing very heavily on the attacking side and that's not right.
"Okay, you may see more tries being scored but does that necessarily make a great game of rugby? The (NSW) Waratahs are getting half the crowd they used to get 15 years ago.
"They (may) score 75 points or whatever but I don't think that's going to entice people back to the sport."