New Zealand Rugby
Henry slams influence of technology
September 25, 2009
Graham Henry's All Blacks will embark on their end of year tour next month © Getty Images
All Blacks coach Graham Henry believes advancements in technology have contributed to the sport becoming a less attractive spectacle.
Henry has also re-opened the Experimental Law Variations debate by insisting the game was much more enjoyable to play and watch during the controversial trial that was scrapped by the International Rugby Board earlier this year.
In an interview with The Independent newspaper, Henry also said the over-reliance on kicking at the top level was a disadvantage to the natural running instincts of his side and Australia and suggested reducing the value of a penalty to one point.
"The quality of the ball, like everything else such as the quality of the boots, is constantly improving," Henry said. "Guys are kicking the ball 60m these days because the ball has improved so much. Kicking is a skill but it is transforming the game and I don't think that was in the original ideas of rugby.
"We can't increase the length of the field; there might be opposition to that at places like Twickenham and Eden Park. But on the same size field as long ago, you can now kick the ball 10m-15m further. That changes both the nature of the game and the nature of the penalty."
The shift in emphasis would impact most on the All Blacks and Wallabies, Henry believed, not only on the field but off it, where interest levels could wane.
"People that have been traditional fans are now questioning the game because of the laws," Henry said. "There is nothing Australia and New Zealand can do about it. We wanted to make the ELVs permanent but we got out-voted. But the consequences of doing nothing about this in this part of the world are serious. It is a real problem because we do not have the population numbers in this country. Getting bums on seats is a big challenge, especially in a recession."
Henry said the current rules promote safety-first rugby. South Africa dominated the Tri-Nations on the back of a kicking strategy which reduced the chances of being penalised.
"Because of the rules, sides don't take risks and don't pass the ball very often," Henry said. "They are wary of playing a wider, more expansive game and scared of giving away penalties. It is becoming even more of a chessboard game than it ever has been. The way the game is played now is often like a tennis match with the ball kicked downfield so much."
Henry said reducing the value of a penalty would be a radical move but suggested its impact would be positive. "Wouldn't that create widespread cheating?" he said. "It may do but it gives the possibility to the other side that if they get the ball there are ways of winning the game other than kicking goals."
Henry also suggested allowing a mark to be called when the ball is caught and play then taken back to where the kick was made. "It is a matter of the people that have got the power making the correct decisions. But the problem at the moment is, what is the correct decision in one country isn't necessarily the correct decision in another. So I think you need impartial people to make these decisions for the good of the game.
"I do think the rulemakers have got to re-visit this. The game under the ELVs last year was much more enjoyable to play and much better to watch."