End the winter of discontent of northern hemisphere rugby – rugby should become a summer sport

by Charlie_East_West on October 19, 2015

Muddy Rugby

As the dust settles on yet another blistering round of matches at the Rugby World Cup, the rugby commentariat has entered a period of navel gazing on why the sourthern hemisphere is better at rugby than the northern hemisphere. This is slightly misplaced. Southern Hemisphere rugby union is better and it isn’t better than northern hemisphere rugby union. Both have different sets of strengths and weaknesses. But, it is up to northern hemisphere rugby authorities to find a way to address the weaknesses.

Yes, the All Blacks are on a different level to everyone else, but, based on the performances in the quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup, there is not much difference between Ireland, Wales and Scotland compared to Argentina, South Africa and Australia. But for injuries to key players and dodgy refereeing, the semi final line up could quite easily have been All Blacks v Wales and Scotland v Ireland.

The outcomes in favour of the southern hemisphere is largely due to very fine margins of luck and composure rather than a huge gulf in class.

Northern Hemisphere rugby had some mighty fine qualities based around a defensive kicking game, strong abilities at the set piece and an ingrained ability to ruck and maul the ball. The area where the southern hemisphere remains dominant is snaffling the ball at the breakdown and incredible handling skills from 1-15. When you see All Black props giving dummies and flip passes in the offload, it is a joyous sight to behold.

If there are any lessons for northern hemisphere rugby to learn and address it is to find a way from kids rugby upwards to improve ball handling skills.
The solution? It is time for summer rugby to be played in the northern hemisphere.

As ex-Scotland international and broadcaster, John Beattie stated, The southern hemisphere must think we are “stark raving bonkers” to play most of our rugby in the freezing cold, water logged pitches in the dark days of midwinter.

When I was a kid or young man, I played rugby through the winter. There was a clear separation between winter sports (rugby, football) and summer sports (cricket, golf and tennis). But, we now live in 2015, not the dark ages of my former youth. It is pretty clear that the best rugby can only be played in the dry. How on earth can decent handling skills be developed from a young age when it is absolutely hosing it down or if the pitch is quagmire?

Also, if rugby was played over the summer months, spectators would be more inclined to turn out and support their team. Better weather = more convivial = more spectators.

I watched my son and his pals play rugby at school recently. It was a shambles. All the kids were clearly frozen whilst trying to handle a ball that had become like a bar of soap due to the wet conditions. Basically, everyone involved from the kids, coaches, teachers and spectating parents secretly wanted to go inside and eat some warm soup. The old school element will always say, “ah, but this bad weather toughens the kids up”. This is bullshit. Rugby is a tough game anyway, so what not play it in conditions that increases the ability to develop core handling skills, rather than allowing small kids to freeze in the temperatures of midwinter where the ball is just kept up the jumper of the forwards while the backs hardly receive any ball. The game is often reduced to an up and under kicking frenzy with inevitable knock ons from handling errors caused by the conditions.

Rugby union at all levels in the northern hemisphere should be converted into a summer game. The entire season should be moved to March – October. The Six Nations should moved back a few weeks to April and May.

Spectators would enjoy watching the game in better conditions and children learning the game would benefit by enjoying the warmer temperatures which are more conducive towards creating better handling skills. The game would also benefit from becoming less dangerous at set pieces. Waterlogged slippy pitches increases the risk of neck injuries from collapsed scrums.

Moving the rugby season across the summer months would also mean a globalisation of the rugby calendar – where both southern and northern hemisphere play within a similar framework of dates and conditions.

Keeping rugby in December, January and February is an old school mindset thing. But it is now antiquated. Secretly, most of the rugby fraternity would rather watch and play the game with a backdrop of blue skies, sunshine, barbecues and chilled beer rather than enduring the game through temperature endurance, muddied pitches, hailstorms and pies and bovril at half time.

So while we all enjoy what has been the most enjoyable Rugby World Cup of all time in terms of excitement, classic matches and free flowing rugby, perhaps the rugby fraternity should consider why this has happened. The matches have been barnstorming affairs because the weather has been fantastic. The games have largely been played through an indian summer which has enabled free flowing rugby with minimal handling errors. I doubt very much that the whole spectacle would have been so compelling if the event had taken place in January.

Move the game to the summer months and watch the entire game in the northern hemisphere transform itself on some many different levels. It is time for the rugby authorities in the northern hemisphere to get into a collective scrum and end the winter of discontent for rugby union and move this wonderful old game game to the summer season.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gurpal Gill October 28, 2015 at 3:04 pm

100% agree with you on this one.
When matches occur in freezing cold conditions on water logged pitches it feels like a complete waste of time for all involved.
Especially at grass roots level, kids can barely develop their skills under such conditions.

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