The East Terrace
IRB to cash in on 80s retro craze
James Stafford
October 15, 2010
Wales' Jonathan Davies accepts a pass, Wales v New Zealand, Christchurch, New Zealand, May 28, 1988
The IRB hope a return to the kits and hairstyles of the 1980s will have a positive economic impact © Getty Images

In an audacious attempt to combat the global economic crisis and its accompanying threat to rugby's ticket sales and merchandise revenue, the International Rugby Board has instigated a special 1980s 'Rugby Retro Theme' project.

Every member Union and professional club is being asked to buy into a new 'Retro Rugby' concept to help create a huge buzz around the sport and raise rugby's profile in these dire economic times.

At a special IRB conference, held in the suitable surroundings of the Newport Gwent Dragons' Rodney Parade Ground in South Wales, IRB Marketing Officer Greg Matthews unveiled a list of special proposals and ideas the sport's governing body hope will help peak interest in the game ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

"The 80s are all the rage at the moment in the fashion world and the high street," announced Matthews, attired in an authentic Depeche Mode t-shirt. "Hollywood, for example, is churning out remakes and reboots like the A-Team, Footloose, Predator and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, just to name a few. Meanwhile, the music scene is full of reunions and tours from the likes of Spandau Ballet, Culture Club and The Police.

"We thought it would be great to tap into that whole vibe and cross pollinate it with our marketing ideas and ferment a special kind of atmospheric buzz around rugby. We also worry that many members of the public may have drifted away from rugby since the sport turned professional in 1995 and we want to give them a nostalgia blast and get them back into the game."

Perhaps the most controversial of the retro proposals is the IRB's wish to have special 'Retro Law' weekends in which referees will govern matches according to rugby laws of the 1980s.

This will include no lifting permitted in the lineouts, four point tries and half-time intervals lasting just five minutes (with the teams staying on the rugby field for the duration of this break). Furthermore, teams will actually be allowed to ruck man and ball properly, immediately solving the thorny issue of modern teams lying all over the ball and killing it without any real consequence.

Other ideas proposed include:

  • Pitch invasions allowed not only after games, but also after tries. Fans will be asked, however, to invade the field in 'respectful numbers and leave moments later'.
  • Northern hemisphere sides to play without any Kiwis, Australians or South Africans in their squad.
  • Fans encouraged to wear flat caps, scarves and rosettes in team colours rather than wearing replica jerseys.
  • No ground to have more than one Ladies' toilet facility on offer for spectators.
  • 20% of all playing squads to have genuine mullet hairstyles.
  • All teams to increase quota of chubby wingers.
  • Fans to bring more hip flasks to games.
  • BBC to revert to old fashioned broadcast techniques similar to 1980s in which they show the match live without missing every other play due to replays/crowd shots.
  • Hospitality and corporate attendees asked not to attend matches and do something they actually care about instead and leave real rugby fans alone.
  • Abolition of the Magners League and replacement with competition fans of Ireland, Scotland and Wales care about.
  • Matchday programmes to be similar to the 1980s and small enough to actually fit in a fan's coat pocket.
  • New Zealand to win a World Cup.

Other proposals suggested by the IRB include asking teams to return to the classic cotton playing kits of the era. Ironically, in contrast to most aspects of general 1980s revivals, the use of 1980s rugby kit will be considered by many to actually improve rugby style throughout the globe.

The 1980s rugby shirts were of a far simpler, classier and less fussy design than the current atrocities on offer from most of the rugby world and the IRB obviously feel it would benefit the game's image to hark back to simpler times.

"Perhaps the most controversial of the retro proposals is the IRB's wish to have special 'Retro Law' weekends in which referees will govern matches according to rugby laws of the 1980s."

"We believe," said Matthews, "A raft of new kit would, in the short term, boost merchandise sales for teams all around the world. But more importantly rugby is currently suffering the ignominy of looking tackier and less stylish that soccer, which is not an acceptable situation and needs to be addressed forthwith. Wales, for example, have already launched a 1980s style jersey, but sadly based on the Arsenal football kit of the 1980s. This is all wrong. At the very minimum teams are being asked to at least remodel their existing kit to include very, very tight fitting and very, very short shorts with pockets to keep one's hands warm."

It is also hoped that the 2011 Six Nations will also be run according to 1980s conventions, albeit with Italy still allowed to take part. Most notably there will be no physical trophies presented to any teams for winning the Grand Slam, Championship or Triple Crown.

Instead, successful teams will be asked to run as fast as humanly possible to the dressing rooms before being mobbed by the common masses during a free for all pitch invasion, an experience unknown to modern players.

"There are all sorts of benefits to our proposed Retro Law weekends," added Matthews. "People say penalty goals are far too prevalent in the modern game as goals can be made from much further distances due to aerodynamic balls and the use of kicking tees. We'll be asking teams to use old Mitre Multiplex balls, much heavier, and making players use the ground as a kicking tee after hammering out a hole with their boots (preferably neon striped Adidas boots). This should limit the modern players' ability to convert from too far out, so we should see more teams trying to score tries. Or something like that."

The IRB plan to run their Retro Weekend until the 2011 World Cup which is to be held, with 1980s style facilities, in New Zealand.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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