The 1973 Barbarians were Rubbish

At first glance, today’s Breakdown just looked too boring to read. But after a particularly heavy burrito, early afternoon snooziness was setting in, so we tackled it.

And boy were we glad – it’s a great episode. It looks at some statistics from modern rugger, and makes interesting comparisons to days of yore (the sideburns, muck and no tries era). The stat that caught our eye was this:

Between 1971 and 1973, including the Barbarians against New Zealand …. the average match then generated 101 set pieces, 63 lineouts and 38 scrums, and there were 31 rucks/mauls. In the 2000 Six Nations, the set-piece number had dropped to 58 (31 lineouts, 27 scrums), and the rucks/mauls totalled 116. This year, lineouts and scrums were down to 37 (23 lineouts, 14 scrums, only eight of which saw the ball used) and rucks/mauls had risen to 181.

Just another 37 of these to go, chaps

Sixty three lineouts! Thirty eight scrums!! And remember, lineouts were a shambles in those days (see our Tw*tter/F*cebook profile pics) – the games must have been rubbish. So much for the grass-was-greener brigade. Even if there happened to be a game in the 1970s were someone beat a drink-sodden touring side and made a play about it, the game must have been desperately poor to watch, despite its reported attendance of 580,000. It shows the strides made, especially since the RWC began (the amateur era versus the shamateur and professional era if you like).

It got us thinking – what are the best and worst things about modern-day rugby? Here’s our thoughts:

The good:

  • Ruck turnovers, especially when a ravenous forward pack drive over a tiny marrooned back
  • The lineout – a soaring catch and quick offload is a thing of pure beauty
  • Offloads by tight forwards – who can’t help but smile when one of the fatties shows hands of silk. Mushy specialises in this, but loses points for being rubbish in the tight 
  • Backline tries in the corner – think anything by Girvan Dempsey
  • Linebreaks in broken field – sending a lithe centre through a non-existent gap in the blitz and seeing acres of green .. beautiful
  • The scrum .. when it works (1% of the time)

The Bad:

  • Ham-fisted lateral shunting across a backline – like Ireland 2011
  • Ineffective rucking – seeing your tight forwards make no  impression on a wall of  opponents is seriously dispiriting and begs the question what they do all day in training
  • Carries for 0 metres that end up using 4 forwards in a ruck against 1 opponent – utterly brainless in this time of tactical planning
  • Inept handling by professionals – get some practise in already!
  • Players in specialist positions who can’t specialise – O’Leary or Banahan spring to mind
  • The scrum .. when it doesn’t work (99% of the time)
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  1. Stevo

     /  April 13, 2012

    I’m a signed-up member of the grass-is-greener-now brigade (and I get the impression you are too). Think of what the stats about the amount of scrums and line-outs actually imply – constant knock-ons and kicking to touch! Yes, the modern game has problems, but the encouraging thing is that of the ones you’ve listed the only one which seems to be fundamental, rather than a result of poor coaches/players, is the scrum. Get that working again and we’re laughing!

    • With the scrums it wasn’t so much constant knock-ons, but in the sepia days balls came out of rucks with a lot less regularity than today, causing a scrum to be awarded.

      When people highlight how long a match today is taken up with scrums they fail to acknowledge games in the 70’s & 80’s were scrum fests. Ok, not as much resetting, but lots of breaks in play while they got organised. The game was a mass of ‘run to breakdown, ball not available, scrum. Run to breakdown,….’ etc. I reckon if you compared the games today with a game in the 70’s the amount of time spent on scrums would be higher in the 70’s.

      • Stevo

         /  April 16, 2012

        That’s a good point, my earliest memories of watching rugby are Five Nations matches from the mid-to-late 80s and it was still the case that when the ball went into ruck that it would as often as not end up lost under a dog-pile of players from either side. It was a mystery to me what exactly the ref was blowing for on the occasion that someone got penalised for going in off their feet!

  2. Double D

     /  April 16, 2012

    Agree with most but would like to point out that the lineouts and scrums were a much quicker process back then. As you rightly point out but don’t sufficiently highlight, the repetetive scrum collapses where refs are impotent/clueless/robotic, is a real drag on the modern game. Furthermore, every sport progresses and breeds differing types of player for the particular era. You would hope, wouldn’t you, that the game is better now with professional organisations running the show rather than amateurs or yesteryear.

    Therefore, I don’t find the above article particularly groundbreaking. Furthermore, your analysis is skewed to international rugby (obvious I know due to the availability of historical stats). Remember that the number of international games back then were few and far between. Maybe a max of 6 a year (if there was no tour). So, psychologically, these guys are going to play a much tighter game (i.e. cup final rugby every day). So, I would imagine club rugby, had a lot to offer back then in terms of openness.

    Also, these existed pre-professional and shamateur era.

    ■Offloads by tight forwards
    ■Backline tries in the corner
    ■Linebreaks in broken field

  3. @ umm @Stevo yeah, it’s a whole lot of booting the ball alright. I think ummm has a point – from my recent Rugbai Gold viewing, all I could see at rucks was pile-ups, with sealing off, going off your feet, coming in the side – you name it – all de rigeur, meaning that the ball usually got stuck at the bottom of a mass of bodies.

    @Doube D the scrum is indeed a blight on the modern game. If I ever fall behind real time (happens a lot with a 2yr old in the house) I admit to fast forwarding through scrum resets to get back to the live picture. It’s a piece for another day though – or better still, for someone who actually has a clue about scrummaging! Try this one out.

    We’re aware that linebreaks existed before 1987 – those were just a list of things we love and hate about rugby, not exclusive to today’s game. We could equally write a list of things we miss about old rugby: huge cotton shirts, hangovers, small nippy wingers, fly-halves hacking at the ground to place the ball for penalties and my own personal number one, the diving scrum-half pass. A true lost art!

    I’m not buying your club rugby argument for a second though. The idea that Shannon v Garryowen was awash with backhanded passes, dizzying counter-attacking and perfectly executed set-piece moves, all of which went out the window when the best players got together for internationals doesn’t strike me as especially likely.


  4. Also, if you want to reduce the amount of time spent on scrums then reduce the number of instances in which a scrum is the, or one of the, reset option(s).

    Knock on
    Forward pass
    Not straight lineout (optional)
    Accidental offside
    Penalty (optional)
    Ball unplayable in a ruck
    Not kicking off with a drop kick (optional)
    Kick off not taken from the right place (optional)
    Kick off not 10m (optional)
    Kick off out on the full (optional)
    Incorrect restart in a 22m drop out (optional)
    22m drop out directly into touch (optional)
    22m drop out does not cross the 22m line (optional)
    Kickers team not behind the kicker for a 22m drop out (optional)
    Stationary maul
    From a mark (optional)
    ‘A’ crooked throw, B opts for lineout, B crooked throw… scrum to A
    Ball unplayable in a lineout
    Attacker held up over the line

    … there are more but I’m getting bored now!

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