Paul Rees, a man unique among rugby correspondents in that he doesn't seem to like rugby much, is today once again lamenting the death of the game. Move along everyone, nothing to see here but the chalked outline of William Webb Ellis…
His argument is valid enough on at least some of the Guinness Premiership numbers: there are half as many tries this year as there were at the same time in 2007-8, and 2.6 and 4.7 tries per match respectively; but less convincing on others, the comparison of drops and pens between the same years are not that different.
To be fair to Paul the Misery, he is not the only one wringing his hands about the state of the game, with issues being brought up about player bulk, lack of creativity and excessive kicking coming from all sides since the summer. Many are blaming the rules, but is it entirely justified? I'm not sure.
In the midst of many games that have admittedly been utter dreck this autumn, there have been some corkers; Leicester vs Ospreys, most Northampton matches, France vs SA, Ireland vs Aus, even Wales vs Arg showed some class (I'm sure you could name others). Surely, if it was all the fault of the rules then no games would be any good?
It cannot be denied that the new protocols at the breakdown have caused problems, but the fact still remains that if you get enough people to the breakdown you will still win the ball just as before. It has always been the case that no player should take contact when isolated and while the protocols have made this more important this should not be an impossible obstacle for coaches to overcome. Instead of whining about it, get your players operating in tighter units, look at using pods – mostly simply accept the fact that for years it was piss-easy to recycle your own possession and now you are being asked to earn your money. Likewise, the players should look at the themselves and trust their ability rather than taking the coward's route with the boot.
Rees' analysis also makes the mistake of focusing on the Guinnes Premiership, falling into the common trap of believing that the English domestic league or England national team is somehow the appropriate laboratory sample to use in the diagnosis of the health of world rugby. It is not. The Premiership is suffering from a combination of organised defences and a particular crop of players who are a bit on the creatively mediocre side. Funnily enough, teams that have creative players – Saints and Irish for example – are creating things; teams which do not are not - what a miracle, eh?