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Sub Rules Need to be Revisited

Thursday Jul 2, 2009 in Columns GoffonRugby

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(Versatility gets Phil Mack, who is a scrumhalf but can in a pinch play all other back positions, into the Canada lineup. Ian Muir photo.)

A GoffonRugby Opinion Column

Today Canada named their starting 22 for their World Cup Qualifier. On the reserves bench, coach Kieran Crowley, worried about the toll the hot South Carolina weather will take on his front row, listed two props and a hooker on his subs bench.

In addition, Crowley added a lock and a flanker. So that’s five sub spots given to forwards, leaving only two to backs. Of those, Crowley made the decision virtually every head coach has to make, giving one spot to a scrumhalf. He is fortunate in the fact that his backup scrumhalf, Phil Mack, is pretty versatile. But really, he now has one player to cover flyhalf, center, wing and fullback.

This decision by Crowley is one that we see taken more and more by coaches. It used to be that the subs were three forwards, a scrumhalf, and three backs. Gradually that moved to four forwards, a scrumhalf, and two backs. Now we’re seeing more and more five forwards on the bench.

At the professional, and especially the international level, the game is just too physical, too demanding, for coaches to expect most of the forwards to make it through the game.

So we’ve developed a hybrid backline player – someone who can play all the positions, or, at least, we hope he can. It’s quite possible we’ll see the emergence of other utility players – why not a flanker/center?

We’d like to make a humble suggestion. The IRB should change the substitution rules. We don’t want more than seven subs to be used in a game, but why can’t the subs bench be larger?

What if we expanded the subs bench to nine players. A coach can name 24 players available to play – 15 starters and nine subs. Of those subs, only seven can be used. Such a plan would allow a coach to make substitution decisions based in part on injuries. As it is, if Canada suffers a rash of backline injuries against the USA, Crowley is in some trouble. We would almost certainly see Nanyak Dala have to line up as a back.

International rugby isn’t getting any softer. So why not adjust the sub rules to keep up?

- Alex Goff

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