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‘It’s madness’: Exeter’s Baxter attacks World Rugby’s latest law change plans
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‘It’s madness’: Exeter’s Baxter attacks World Rugby’s latest law change plans

World Rugby’s latest flurry of law change recommendations have been criticised as “madness”. Rob Baxter, the director of rugby at Exeter Chiefs, argues that constant tinkering with the game’s laws and interpretations is confusing new spectators and is undermining the sport’s ambitions for global growth.

Just over a fortnight ago, World Rugby announced a raft of proposed measures aimed at broadening the appeal of the sport by, among other things, reducing the number of times a rolling maul can be restarted and looking to encourage fewer scrum resets. Few of the initiatives have impressed Baxter, a strong believer that rugby has an unhealthy ­obsession with tweaking laws.

“We need to stop changing the laws,” said Baxter, one of the Premier­ship’s most respected figures. “We’re trying to grow the game and there’s no sport in the world that tries to grow by con­fusing new supporters every 12 months. The game was fine three or four years ago, and we didn’t need to change it then – 90% of the law changes are to redo things that have been created by other law changes. It’s madness.”

Along with everyone else, Baxter wants rugby to be both safe to play and enticing to new ­supporters but, in his view, the simplistic pursuit of a more attractive and ­entertaining product risks eroding the game’s traditional pillars. “You grow the game by introducing new players and people to it, but we’re confusing new people every year by changing laws and ­interpretations,” he said.

“We’re pre­venting ourselves from allowing a good product to happen. If they decide to make law changes [in May] then they have to decide to put a moratorium on not changing them any more. Let’s settle down and get on with it.”

Baxter, who guided Exeter to a domestic league and European title double in 2020, also said he would not be keen on the Premiership ­hosting some of the optional trials being encouraged by World Rugby such as insisting the ball has to be played after a maul has been stopped once, rather than twice. “I kind of hope that we just leave things,” he said.

“They’re reinforcing two or three things to let the game keep ­flowing – we don’t need to do any more than that. We seem ­infatuated with ­thinking that depowering the scrum and maul will create this game ­everyone wants to come and watch.

“The more you depower the scrum and maul, the more you’re going to ­create a game that people are not going to want to watch because there’ll be no space.

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“If there’s no free-kick option at a scrum then as soon as the scrum hits the floor or whatever, the back row are going to be up. There are going to be so many things people haven’t thought about, like depowering the maul. The best way to create space on a rugby field is to power up the maul.

“When people say: ‘You can’t stop a maul,’ you can always stop a maul. You just have to put in as many or more people than the opposition. That’s how you stop it. People don’t want to do it because then there’s space in which tries can be scored. But that’s the whole point. Keep the maul powerful so teams have to commit bodies to it. I just wish we’d stop changing the laws, it drives me potty.”

Source: theguardian.com