In his regular column for The Sunday Times, Stephen Jones has detailed his suggestion for a way to ensure a more attractive, attacking style of rugby and eliminate 'confetti caps' (meaningless caps given for short substitute appearances) in the process.
Jones is claiming that if rugby were to ban the use of substitute replacements, apart from injured players who have been deemed unfit to play by a doctor, it would actually cause less injuries to players, as tired players cannot put in big hits late in the game, and also improve the entertainment value of rugby as defensive organisation would be more difficult without subs.
He started out by explaining that caps should only be earned by playing the full match, and points to the help that fresh substitutes give a defensive line as a reason for Ireland and Italy's injury problems:
Consider it if the game banned replacements (except for the substitution of injured players, so reverting to the regulations as they stood in 1993 and before). If you won a cap, you would have to earn it, by playing a whole match.
A team might still be allowed, say, five players on the bench but could only introduce them if a doctor pronounced a player unfit to continue. The effect would be staggering, and beneficial.
This Six Nations has been marked by a dearth of quality and sweeping changes. Defences have dominated, and the action has also been marked by a disturbing number of injuries. Italy and Ireland each lost three players inside the first half of one of their games.
Jones then continues to detail exactly why the changes would benefit the game, and defends against what he believes would be the most popular arguments against the idea:
So deal with all these problems at once. Ban replacements. People might say that keeping tired players out there is dangerous. At least seven players in every match play the whole game anyway, which ends that argument. Players would have to train to play for 80 minutes, to be fit for purpose, instead of training just for 55 minutes or so, as some clearly do.
A little tiredness is good for the game and for avoiding injuries. You cannot hit so hard and so often. You cannot be exactly in your place on the defensive line. The lack of fresh reinforcements would open space in which to attack. The idea for decades was to dominate the opposition and drain them so that in the final quarter, attacking chances would open up. The intensity of the defence would fall away, the size of the collisions would lessen. Perfect.
At present, just as you are wearing down a team and cashing in on your extra power or skills, the opposition bring on eight new beasts. What value do you get for hammering your opponent when your superiority is nullified by the incomers?
It's certainly thinking outside of the box, but is the idea all that crazy?
While the banning itself is unlikely to be implemented, a compromise on the number of substitutes that are allowed could be the best of both worlds.
It's hard to deny that the second-half stream of subs interrupts the flow of the game, and if the number allowed was reduced then you would see tired defences and still be able to remove players who are struggling without medical clearance.
What also could be used to argue against Jones is the idea of medical clearance at all. Would every match need a neutral doctor to examine every injury? Or would it be left to the team doctors, under pressure from the coaches, to make the call?
Jones takes a lot of heat for his views, but this was an interesting idea. While, again, it is unlikely to be implemented soon, merely asking the question may get people talking with a view to a change of system regarding replacements in the future.
via The Sunday Times.