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BLOG: What Can Football Learn from Rugby?

In a departure from all things Bolton, Jamie asks what football can learn from another of the countries favourite sports.

England's Henry Slade in training
England's Henry Slade in training
David Rogers/Getty Images

There is always a talk about what football can learn from rugby union and watching the world cup has made me consider some of these.

Often talk is based around rugby’s successful use of technology to aid referees. There are differing opinions on this and whether football should learn from rugby in that regard. But in addition to technology there are other aspects of rugby’s governance and attitude that football could learn from.

Let’s begin first with a small aside being the creation of rugby. The popular story is that William Webb Ellis got a little bored while playing football at Rugby School (they got imaginative with the name didn’t they!). He picked up the ball and ran with it in doing so creating a new sport. As the groundsman, played by an oddly familiar looking feller in the rugby world cup opening ceremony (video below), said don’t worry it won’t catch on.

Well it did, but is that really where it all started?

A friend of mine who knows far more about rugby than I could claim too says there is a different story behind rugby’s conception. That is that football used to, many moons ago, be far more like rugby in nature. Or at the very least involved far more contact than the codified game ever did.

The result of this was that when football became a thing there was a gap left in what the original sport which is football did. And thus rugby was born from those lost elements.

Wherever rugby came from it is probably fair to say that both it and football evolved from the same source game however long ago that may have been.

But now down to the point can football learn anything from its long lost cousin? One place where I think maybe football can learn is with technology but we will come onto that obvious aspect soon. Another way is with the process of sinbinning.

Now I am not proposing that a yellow card should equate to a sin bin within the existing rules. This could leave players in the bin for basically no reason in football whereas it takes far more to get a yellow in rugby on the whole. But there are often times when players are sent off for offenses or a collection of offenses which just don’t seem to merit that.

I have to say I am not sure where this would fit into the current game's disciplinary system, but I think it might be useful for certain offenses and allow referees to keep players in the game and not resort to sending players off and ruining the spectacle. Instead the player and the team get punished but they can come back on and the match will not be too affected.

There is also the issue of stoppage time. Now everyone loves a bit of stoppage time drama, well not really but still. Rugby of course stops the clock and does not use stoppage time. This is something that could be done so easily in football. I mean even I could stop a clock at certain points in a game; in fact I imagine a gorilla on cocaine could probably manage it.

The result of this would be no more claims of certain teams getting extra time to find that goal than they should have. No complaints when the ref plays eight minutes and not five. You could use very similar rules to rugby.

Once the game hits 45 minutes and 90 minutes when the ball next goes out of play the game is over. No more arguments about the amount of stoppage time played, no more Fergie time and so much simpler for the match officials.

Now is the big one and that is technology. Many people oppose its use based on the idea it would slow the game down too much. I disagree with this and think it should be used more widely to aid match officials.

For example when a penalty is given normally a few minutes are spent with the players crowding the ref pleading innocence or claiming that it should be a red card. During that time the fourth official used a TMO type system to check the penalty and recommend what the guilty party should get. The result of this would be a greater chance of the correct out come and no more time would be spent on the situation than is already wasted telling the ref how bad he is.

The same could be said for checking an offside or a potential foul before a goal. So much time is spent celebrating that no extra time would be added to the game at all. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that officials need help.

For instance, it is technically impossible to get an offside call correct. The need to track the player on the ball, the defensive line and the player who receives the ball is more than a human can process. This makes it more a wonder not how linesmen get calls wrong but how they ever actually get one right! In an age where everyone watching at home instantly knows whether the ref is right or wrong surely they should have the same privilege to allow them to actually be right?

If it were used excessively during a game, as it can be in rugby no doubt about it, then yeah it would be annoying and ruin the game. But if it were used in very specific circumstances when time is wasted anyway then it will have no impact at all. It would very much be about striking the right balance in relation to what can be challenged and how much time should be spent on it.

It would help referees out no end and leave very little room for doubt for key decisions in the game. At the very least I think that the use of technology in football should be trialled to see how it would work.

On a note not related to rules and regulations football players should learn how to man up from rugby. England’s Sam Burgess while playing in Australia’s rugby league Grand Final at the end of last season broke his cheekbone in the first few minutes. He went on to put in a man of the match performance for his team playing the rest of the match before being ruled out for a few months.

Yeah, Kevin Davies once played on after having a broken finger cracked back into place, but how many other footballers would have done that? There was also an occasion during this world cup that a huge Samoan player went down too easily and the referee told him to his face not to do that again.

How many football refs would do that to a football player to get them to play fair?

There is also the issue of respect towards the referee. Now as a fan who generally decides that the ref as rubbish within about five minutes of every game, I'm not really one to talk. However, I will regardless.

The comparison here can be Nigel Owens when dealing with a dissenting rugby player. He says this isn’t soccer and next time you want to shout claiming for something you can go in the sinbin.

On another occasion he suggests that the player goes to the football ground 500 yards away if they want to complain about his decision making.

The result of this is that everyone treats the referee with far more respect. When you watch a rugby match live there is no anti ref chanting. There is an acceptance that the ref is right, and if he is not there is nothing you can do about it anyway. Respect on the pitch filters down and does make a big difference.

Now I do like a little bit of ref bashing myself, but it does often go too far.

When it hits the point where school children reportedly emulate their footballing idols by having a go at the ref and diving left right and centre it is a really sad reflection on the sport.

It is embarrassing that the beautiful game is used for Nigel Owens put downs and has such a bad reputation. Rugby players show their opposition players and the ref far more respect than many footballers do. This is of course not addressed at all footballers and there are many who are a credit to the game, but there is no doubting there are many who are not.

Do you agree that these types of changes should be looked at for football? Or am I just being an idiot? Let’s have your views in the comments below!