Out On The Full: Has Rugby Lost It’s Skill?

The country was overcome with joy once 80 minutes hit following Ireland’s massive victory over the English in the Aviva last Sunday.

Well no, that’s not entirely true.

Relieved is a better term to use. We were relieved to see that our big boys bullied their big boys off the park.

But it wasn’t an easy game to watch. It’s tough to sit there watching every bone-crunching tackle, every injury stoppage and every player limping to the side-line. But rugby wasn’t always like this. Where are the dancing feet? The intelligent line breaks? Ultimately, where’s the skill?

Well, it’s quite an obvious answer really. Teams are sacrificing these athletic feats for brutal strength and aggression.

It’s not hard to find when we look across the rugby world. Take France for example, a team that is struggling to deal with the new age of rugby. A team that was once noted for its flair and the beauty of their attacking rugby has been transformed into a team of large ball carrying unit. Take the formidable Mathieu Bastareaud. He’s six foot tall, 271 lbs and an absolute battering ram. However, a quick scan of his stats show that he’s not quite the attacking force he seems, with only two tries in his 31 tests for Les Bleus. Compare that to a more agile player in Vincent Clerc and the differences are astounding. The nimble Clerc had 10 times as many tries by his thirty first cap owing to his speed and explosiveness off the line. However, we don’t need to look too far to find this lack of scores creeping into our own game.

The Irish national team is winning all around them at the minute but the lack of try scoring is a cause for concern. Ireland have scored only three tries in this year’s competition while they had six at this stage last year, eventually going on to top the table with 16.

Players with the build of the likes of Gordan D’arcy are being passed over for strong ball carriers such as Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw. While there’s no doubting Henshaw’s ability, the team are struggling in attack recently and look to Johnny Sexton to kick them out of some difficult spots.

As Brian O’Driscoll was once taught, the secret to rugby is simple. “Get your hands on the ball, run fast and avoid being tackled”. However, these are not the lessons being taught to our up and coming stars for the future. Many articles and reports have been written in relation to the bulking up phenomenon that can be found in schools rugby today. Children are encouraged to eat more and spend more time in the gym all at the expense of learning the basic skills. This is not only a worry for their coaches but also for the parents and guardians of these kids who will grow too quickly to the detriment of their health. Yet, as the expression goes, “You only sing when you’re winning” and right now, the big teams are dominating.

There was one thing to take away from the match on Sunday that proves all is not lost for the game. The kick and catch for the Irish try was a superb training ground move. Nobody got battered, everyone was in awe and the only thing that came away hurt was the Englishmen’s pride. A winning team is a happy team and the age of big-man rugby is well and truly upon us.

Aidan Delaney

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