With 2016 quickly coming to a close and after a fantastic 12 months of international rugby, we look back at the year in full and make five wishes for 2017.
5) A return to rugby’s traditional values
The sport has always prided itself on its moral compass, treasuring such values as honesty and integrity. However, in recent years professionalism has seen an increasing desperation for victory, including a rapid rise in cynicism.
Diving and ‘play-acting’ is slowly creeping into the game and it’s not a welcome addition.
Moreover, rugby needs to re-evaluate itself as it tries to grapple with the overtly complex issue of preventing head injuries. World Rugby has intervened by introducing recent changes to tackle laws and bringing in stricter protocols regarding dealing with head injuries, which is admirable and of course necessary, but at the same time the sport needs to be careful it does not become too sanitised. The hard edge to rugby is what makes it so special, after all.
Nothing in that! The carrier has fallen into a tame reactional arm!The game needs to get a grip! Rugby is disappearing at a rapid rate!
— Nick Easter (@nick_easter) December 11, 2016
4) A truly entertaining Six Nations
For some the attritional nature of Europe’s premier rugby tournament is the best thing about it, but others want more scores, more ambition and ultimately more expansive play.
The introduction of bonus points to the Six Nations for the first time may or may not have an impact on the style of play, but it will certainly have an effect on overall standings.
It’s fair to say many of the games in recent years have been drab affairs, but at the same time the desire to make up for points differences in the final round of 2015’s edition of the tournament made for some particularly compulsive viewing.
3) More competitive games against the All Blacks
It seems ridiculous to say it, but watching the All Blacks destroy all before them gets a little dull after a while. Seeing the world’s best team put 40 or 50 points on the likes of Australia and South Africa doesn’t really offer much of an advert for international rugby.
However, one of the game’s of the year has to be Ireland’s tremendous and historic win over the men in black in Chicago back in November. It’s a result that shook the world of rugby and more nations need to up their game further to compete with the ABs.
The scary thing is New Zealand are only going to get better, but here at Pundit Arena we’d love to see a few more teams giving them more of a challenge than they have offered in the last few years. Hopefully this might start with the Lions tour to the country next summer.
2) More opportunities for tier 2 and 3 nations
It’s good that the likes of Georgia, USA, Canada, Fiji and Samoa are getting games against some of the biggest names in the world, and the Lelos went on their first tour to the Pacific Islanders earlier in the year, but it still feels like a lot more could be done to provide a pathway to these teams being more competitive against tier one sides.
The paradigm-shifting performance of Japan against South Africa in last year’s World Cup shows that with the right coaching and the right mindset anything is possible.
With extra support from the tier one nations, working further in tandem with World Rugby, rugby could thrive right across the planet and become a truly global sport.
1) A global rugby season
Okay, so this wish is like asking for world peace, but with two ultimately conflicting business models and different aims and objectives, it seems like the northern and southern hemispheres are constantly going to be pulling against each other rather than coming up with a compromise that might satisfy both sides of the equator.
There’s been a lot of talk and frankly bluster about this issue, but has there really been a way forward? With player welfare finally coming to the fore in a sporting environment dominated by financial concerns, something must be done and soon to ensure the world’s best players don’t suffer from burnout.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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