Are we on our way to the Colosseum?

One should be wary of getting stuck in the “good old days”. Today is tomorrow’s good old days, after all.

When I mentioned to my colleague Bobby, that John Plumtree currently sits with an injury list of 15 players, he pointed out that this constituted a whole team. Considering that we are halfway through the Super 15 Competition, and that many other teams face the same problems, it raises the question whether rugby is still a sport, or has taken on gladiatorial dimensions?

Has Kings Park become the Colosseum?

In the old days, when Frik du Preez or Mof Myburgh were injured (a very rare occurrence, I may add), they were out of the game for a week, or two, at the most.

In the modern era, where conditioning staff make up a major part of the support structure, players are out for months on end, some even longer. Schalk Burger’s injury is a case in point. I see that he carries cases of Klipdrift around these days in an advert published at my favourite retail outlet. Well, he was always near the soil, in a manner of speaking, and I can think of worse ways of getting back in shape.

A few months ago, I watched the Springbok Saga TV series. It was amazing to see players front up for the scrum, engage without instruction, get the ball out, and spread it down the line. I did not time it, but it certainly took less than a quarter of the time the modern day scrum absorbs. This most certainly led to a lot more playing time then, yet injuries were never as prevalent as it is now.

There are numerous reasons why this changed. I will touch on a few here, and I am sure that you can think of many others.

Back then, a forward knew his place, as did a back. It was not uncommon for a player to be reminded of his place by a few well raked studs down his back. These days, it seems that even the fullback spends more time in the loose than do many wings. Someone commented last week that Andries Bekker spends so much time on the wing because he wants be on time for the next lineout.

Danie GerberIn the modern game, we see rucks and mauls ad nauseam, until the opposition is forced into an error resulting in a scoring opportunity, mostly via a kick at goal. A successful driving maul is usually greeted with the same applause as a wing received in the old days when he managed to run around his opposite number, or Danie Gerber stepped inside his opponent and beat three more defenders on his way to the try line.

We have really become satisfied with a lot less than what we were used to.

All this physicality must impact on the players. The sceptic will say that a workout in the gym cannot replace the physical effort of a Colin Meads, a sheep farmer in New Zealand who was renowned for his strength. I do not agree with this. It is in fact a major concern that players are injured this seriously despite all the scientific expertise available.

In an ironic way, the current state of affairs resembles the financial services industry. Numerous rules were implemented to protect players. This led to the game being slowed down, which led to changes in the rules to speed the game up, and finally resulted in such a mess of rules that the regulator, sorry, I meant referee, has great difficulty in interpreting and applying the rules consistently.

I was at Newlands in the sixties when the Springboks played the Wallabies in the third test. The Aussie prop, Roxburgh, made it his mission to punch Hannes Marais in the previous two tests, and in the very first scrum, proceeded to do so again. As the scrum stood up, Gawie Carelse, with his sleeves rolled up, let rip with a right fist that left Roxburgh oscillating like a punch bag on a pole. Jungle justice ensured that he behaved for the rest of the match. In fact, if replacements were allowed in those days, he would have been taken off very early.

A more recent example is the classic Gert Smal/Gary Knight contest which you can see by clicking here.

My plea is not for dirty play, but rather simplification of the rules, and application of the correct punishment for transgressors.

And yes, this may very well apply equally to the financial services industry.


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