Former Wales and Swansea star Stuart Davies has hit out at the state of modern rugby, lamenting “something has gone wrong with our beautiful game and it needs saving”.
The hard-driving ex-No. 8, fondly remembered for the try on his Test debut which helped secure victory over Ireland in Dublin in 1992, believes a multitude of factors have combined to ensure the sport has lost its way.
And, in a self-published blog, he sends an impassioned appeal to the teams in the Six Nations to provide an antidote to some of the less-than-inspiring fare which has recently been dished up.
Looking ahead to the tournament which starts this weekend, Davies writes: “Without the things that make this historical event such a magnificent staple of the rugby calendar, such as the biannual trips, the habitual matchday out meeting up with old friends, the atmospheric grounds or the rugby club gatherings, it will just be rugby stripped bare, albeit with a touch of ‘showbusiness’ from the accompanying coverage.
“And the truth is, as far as I’m concerned, that rugby is not very pretty at the moment. It is too often turgid, formulaic and unentertaining.
“Something has gone wrong with our beautiful game and it needs saving.
“Through a combination of poor governance and law making, an uncontrolled evolution in the interpretation and application of some laws, the focus on strength and physicality that in many ways is a by-product of these first two factors, and a seemingly standard approach to playing, it has simply lost its way.
“This has all adversely affected its spectacle, and more worryingly its safety, both of which will undoubtedly combine to deter participation and viewing figures if not addressed.”
Davies stepped down as chief executive of the Dragons three years ago and is these days working as a self-employed business development director.
As he player, he won 17 caps for Wales and achieved esteemed status at Swansea, for whom he made 285 appearances, with his club career hitting a high with victory over then world champions Australia in 1992.
Davies skippered the side that day (you can read his rugby tales here ).
When he had to pack in the game prematurely because of injury, the hurt he felt that morning the news was announced was almost palpable. Here was a man who had a passion for the sport and relished all it had given him and pretty much everything that went with it.
Seeing his involvement as a player end so abruptly left him almost bereft in the short term.
Davies still has that passion. It’s why he now feels moved to air his thoughts about how the game has evolved.
He identifies the breakdown as being one of rugby’s biggest problems, saying: “It does nothing to attract defences and create space.
“Many forwards, though, are never happier than when they’re going around the corner from one breakdown to the next, hitting the deck at the slightest contact and setting up the next phase, a yard at a time, yard after unambitious yard, phase after boring phase.
“When the ball is released, agoraphobic backs seek contact and safety among the masses, not least because space is such a rare experience in the modern game. Defence is certainly king.”
He points out that there are rules on the ruck related to players binding on a team-mate or opponent and staying on their feet.
“This being the case, though, how did we arrive with the Greco wrestling shambles that we now witness going unpunished in almost every breakdown in every game?
“Ahead of the ruck, though, and just after the tackle, there’s a split second, if that, when a defender can jackal for the ball. This sees a player in a static position and bent over almost double, routinely being cleaned out by onrushing 20 stone colossuses.
“There may be an ongoing debate about concussion-related dementia and its foreseeability, but jackalling is an accident waiting to happen for sure. Give me a good rucking anytime in preference.”
He also wrote: “Why are defending players routinely allowed to run obstructing lines in front of opponents who are chasing a box kick or up and under?
“And what is worse than having to tackle a 20st player? Answer: tackling two 20st players, a scenario that is apparently legal when players latch on to combine their weight and power ahead of making contact with a tackler. This is a ridiculous scenario.
“Some may say double tackles should be similarly outlawed, but attackers have choices as to how they engage with defenders. However, a lone tackler has no such choice and just has to tackle whatever is coming at him.”
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On the subject of the Six Nations, Davies asks: “Will it be more of the same, just an elevated war of attrition and prevailing of the strongest, a mix of rugby tennis and box kicks, until a penalty is won, a resultant line-out gained in the corner and the ball shoved up the jumper until it’s muscled over the line?
“Or will there be innovation, pace, continuity and excitement?
“I really hope it’s the latter, but either way, the absence of any of the usual match day distractions will undoubtedly illuminate the fare on show.
“Please prove me wrong, Six Nations. So many of the things we love are under threat, and rugby needs its own shot in the arm.
“Or is it just me?”
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk