AFTER a very unsatisfactory British and Irish Lions test series, I would have expected much more of an inquiry into why the matches were boring at times. Professional sport is about entertainment, and I’m sorry but the game just isn’t very entertaining these days.

I welcomed the intervention of the Famous Five – plus a surgeon – last week in which they called on World Rugby to stop the 23-a-side game by limiting the substitutions to simple replacement for injuries instead of the wholesale changes that a coach can now make to bring on impact players and finishers against tired opponents.

That would be a very good step in the right direction, but as I wrote, I can’t see it happening anytime soon.  

It’s only one part of the problem, however. I’m afraid to say that in recent years, with a few exceptions, the way rugby union is being played is unattractive because, quite bizarrely, in an era of players being faster than ever, the actual playing of the game has become too slow.

Let’s examine the very laws of the game and see where things have gone wrong. I’ll concentrate on five facets of the modern game as played at international level – scrums, the breakdown, lineouts, box kicks and kicking in general, and video replays of decisions.

Scrummaging has always been one part of rugby that sets it apart from other ball sports. It’s become too big a part of the play, however, because we’ve all forgotten what a set scrum is for – a way of re-starting the match after a minor offence.

As part of the trend towards bigger and bulkier players, the tight five must now all be enormous by past standards which itself brings a problem. Because of the fear of players getting seriously injured in the scrum because they are so big, we have the endless delays as forwards prepare themselves for the ordeal of a scrummage – it just takes too long these days to get a scrum together.

Referees apply the laws which changed in 2017-18 to make it almost impossible to lose your own scrum ball, as a squint feed is now effectively allowed. I can’t remember the last time I saw a heel against the head in an international, and it’s become all about putting pressure on your opponents to concede a penalty. Nice work if you can get it, but frankly something that only scrummaging geeks can understand or appreciate.

So why not either make scrummaging competitive again by enforcing a straight feed law, or accept what is reality and go for scrums that are set up in ten seconds flat and always favour the side that is putting the ball in. At least then we’ll see more actual play.

The breakdown has become such a crucial part of play, but the problem is that it has become so predictable. Big men take the ball up, get the ruck formed, and then impose phase after phase until an opponent is penalised or, quite rarely, the ball goes wide for a score. The problem is that too many sides have become very professional at the breakdown and either use ruck phases to run down the clock or, if defending, attempt to slow down release of the ball. Referees can’t see everything, and many, many professionals have become adept at killing the ball, and with it the game. Yellow cards for a second breakdown offence would stop that nonsense.

Lineouts are arguably the most distinctive feature of rugby union, and fortunately they do remain usually competitive, i.e. the side defending the throw-in does have a chance of disrupting and gaining possession. Again we should remember what the lineout is – a way of re-starting the match when the ball goes out of play on either side of the pitch. The solution to lineout delays is obvious – give both sides ten second to get their line formed or a free kick goes to the opposition. And as the object of many lineouts these days is to form a rolling maul, there should be no delay in the whistle going when a maul is stopped – not every referee remembers to call ‘use it’ timeously.

Judging by the Lions tour, box kicking is now a tactic of choice. Kicking from hand is part of the game, but again it’s become predictable, and box kickers in particular know they will get enough time as chargedowns are difficult to perform. So why not change the laws to make box kicking a much more risky tactic – allow marks to be made outside the 22 with immediate restarts and players will soon get the message that rugby is best when it is played with ball in hand.

Lastly, the era of the video replay is here to stay, but let’s put a time limit on them – if the refs and assistant refs and TMOs can’t reach an agreement within, say, 30 seconds of a referral, then the original decision stands.

Do all these things and at the very least, we’ll get more actual game time.