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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Rugby’s water breaks are hurting the game, not aiding its flow

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Cape Town — Rugby’s move to “aid the flow of the game” with water breaks has had the exact opposite effect and needs to go.

In May, the governing body announced that it had approved a global trial limiting the opportunity for non-playing personnel to enter the field of play during a match with the aim of “improving the flow of matches by reducing unnecessary stoppages without compromising welfare”.

Firstly, it’s not hard to figure out why such a law was suddenly implemented following the ridiculous outrage at SA Rugby’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus’ ‘water boy’ role.

We all know the real reason it was implemented in the first place … it was a poorly masked attempt at restricting the comings and goings of Erasmus.

“The aim of the trial is to improve the flow of the game, reduce the opportunity for potential interference, enhance the spectacle for fans and support match management by match officials.”

How many fans, however, can honestly say that games have been more enjoyable to watch or that the law has in any way enhanced the flow of the game? How is an enforced break in play any less disruptive than water carriers coming onto the pitch during natural stoppages in play?

If the goal is really to enhance the flow of the game, while prioritising player hydration, why put an exact description (head coaches, directors of rugby) on those who are and aren’t allowed on the field during these breaks?

Of course, if weather conditions necessitate regulated water breaks, there is nothing to be faulted. Nobody is expecting players to go into mirage mode during a 3pm kick-off in Kimberley for the sake of keeping play going … But forcing water breaks is doing more harm than good.

In no way is it conducive to a flowing game. What does it do to the team that has the momentum? And how about officials (and opposing players) seeing it as a gap to be extra pedantic and reviewing actions that otherwise would have passed?

And even if teams use natural stoppages while taking water onto the field as an opportunity to ‘coach’ or give instructions, why is that such a threatening act?

Rugby’s actual ball-in-play time is already concerning and far too low and, so far, the only thing this water-break rule has achieved is turning the game into a stop-start and disruptive chukkas-style watch and an opportunistic white-card type of intervention for teams.

Growing the game globally has long been touted as a goal, and in order to achieve that, rugby needs to be more enjoyable and more entertaining for spectators.

But, at this point, all the water-break law has achieved is steering the sport in the exact opposite direction.



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