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Dave Craven: Rules of our games need a new year’s revolution not resolution

Spain's Xabi Alonso.

Spain's Xabi Alonso.

IT IS only natural to think about positive change and improvement when one year draws to a close.

After all, New Year resolutions will today be discussed up and down the land, firmly put in place and staunchly avowed before, no doubt, many are already broken by the time darkness descends tomorrow. Or maybe the end of January.

Nevertheless, it is a time for contemplation, review and refinement, where modifications can be made in order to try and garner a better 12 months ahead.

The sporting world is no different and we have already seen on Boxing Day, via three trialled rule changes, early attempts to enhance rugby league as a spectacle.

But these latest experimental law changes, more of which later, got me thinking about how other sports could be enhanced too.

And it does not even require too much radical thinking, perhaps just a little common sense.

It has to be said, the most frustrating aspects of so many sports could be neutralised with the simplest of actions.

For instance, that odorous habit of footballers haranguing referees, charging towards them wild-eyed with their pack mentality as if they have just discovered their seven-figure salary has, God forbid, been slashed to a paltry six.

Some players show more pace and acceleration in this puerile action than at any other time in a game.

The solution? I am relishing the day a Premier League referee will stand in the middle of such a melee and, instead of being forced to continually backstep and cower, perform a pirouette worthy of Strictly while systematically flashing a yellow card to everyone within two metres of his vicinity.

There’s no reason why it cannot be done. Imagine... three, four, maybe even five bookings at once all to players from the same side. They would soon pack in all that lame posturing.

Does any of that unedifying, finger-jabbing, harassing nonsense occur in cricket, rugby or any other sport? No. If everyone else can retain their composure why not footballers?

Another rule change I’d like to see in football is the re-introduction of tackling.

It seems it is no longer allowed with the merest of contact resulting in some player flouncing around – perhaps in search of a Strictly call-up themselves – and the awarding of a free-kick.

Football does seem so sanitised nowadays. I hate the regular sight of a defender getting his foot cleanly on the ball from behind only to be pulled up because it is apparently outlawed. If he wins the ball, just give him some credit.

It is certainly a dying skill although maybe, in light of Xabi Alonso’s feelings on the matter, the footballing authorities are actually for once showing some foresight.

It was interesting to read recently how the Spanish midfielder was left incredulous during his time at Liverpool when youth team players would claim in match programme notes how their strong point was “shooting and tackling.”

The Real Madrid star, pictured, such an integral part of Spain’s domination on the world stage, argued tackling should never be deemed as a “quality” and instead be seen only as a “last resort”.

He felt England’s fascination with this traditional strength was possibly why they struggle so much at international level where his own side’s nerveless and accurate passing game has seen them prosper so fully.

Maybe he has a point. All we need to do now is get England’s footballers passing with such rhythmic quality themselves but therein lies the rub; with Jack Wilshere currently the only comparable peer, that might not be so simple.

The sheer number of rules in rugby union, meanwhile, seems countless so it may be just easier to get rid of a few from here rather than make new ones.

If it has to be one I’d go for that farcical law which says a player can’t even brush into a colleague in front of him – even if contact is minimal and no opponent is infringed – without being pulled up for accidental offside.

It seems so alien that in a sport so physical and robust, a player can be cut off in full flow for such a negligible and slight contact.

A simple caveat rather than rule change would also be to see the number of reset scrums limited to just two in order to quicken up the game while other sports too could benefit from some minor tweaks.

For instance, what is the point the ‘Let’ call in tennis? If it was rubbed off, and play just continued as a normal first serve, think how many minutes would be shaved off a contest, easing the workload without really diluting the excitement, drama or skill.

Rugby league, in contrast, is renowned for being innovative to the point where there seems to be a new rule in place almost every season.

These latest ones, experimented with in last week’s festive friendlies at Leeds Rhinos and Batley Bulldogs, certainly have some mileage in them.

Where the ball was kicked dead or touch in goal from inside the kicker’s own half, play was restarted with a handover at the centre of the 40m line – instead of the 20m – nearest to the non-kicking team’s whitewash. That should encourage the ball to be kept in field more and deter long-range kicking tactics.

Also, play continuing without the tackle count being reset after a charge-down is regathered by the kicking team at last rewards the defending side for their hard endeavour.

Finally, a team awarded a scrum now has the option of only putting five men in giving them an extra back to attack with, thus heightening the chance of scoring tries.

They are all to be applauded and a decision will be made in the new year as to whether they will be introduced for the Super League campaign ahead.

However, I’d like to see some extreme measures discussed, in particular with regards reducing the modern reliance of scoring tries through kicks.

Maybe such efforts could be reduced to just three points instead of four or, better still, there could be a limit put on the number of tries amassed per team per game via a kicking assist.

Admittedly, the latter could be hard to police but something needs to be done to encourage more creative handling.

 

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