Rugby Union: Kicking against tradition

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The Independent Online
LIKE every touring team to New Zealand before them, the Lions have concluded that to pussyfoot when driving into the rucks is effectively to hand the game to the All Blacks. Sean Fitzpatrick's team now know that they will have to take it as well as give it in Saturday's first Test in Christchurch, writes Steve Bale from Invercargill.

As Geoff Cooke, the manager, explained here yesterday, his players would be prepared to go through precisely the same routine as New Zealanders in their efforts to clear rucked ball. Woe betide you if you are pinned at the bottom of a ruck.

Rucking is the winning of loose ball with the feet and, knowing that what they are about to countenance would never be acceptable in the British Isles, the Lions management have come to their decision reluctantly. 'If you are on the ground, the New Zealanders kick you to bits,' Cooke said.

'Their rucking technique is much more aggressive than ours, because we are so inhibited. In the northern hemisphere we get sent off for some of the stuff that's rucking here. Our players haven't got the ruthless approach and we are going to have problems with that.'

Here they call it old-fashioned New Zealand rucking; back home the gratuitous, repeated raking of a player on the ground would be greeted with horror. Despite their recognition of the problem, the Lions players will find it hard to kick the habits of a lifetime, but Cooke and Ian McGeechan, the coach, insist that they must. 'If we don't we are going to be in trouble. The New Zealanders understand that, they respect that.

'As long as the line is drawn between genuinely rucking to free the ball and malicious stamping or kicking, which none of us wants to see. We've got to have it, otherwise our ball is going to be slowed down, because we've already shown if we can produce that rapid release we can be dangerous with our back play.'

Cooke ascribes the problem in part to New Zealand referees' habit of allowing players to go to ground around the tackle, thereby killing the ball - the very offence for which the home unions are constantly criticised here.

'New Zealanders are virtually obsessed with continuity and we are finding they are allowing just anything to go with the ball on the ground - as long as it's positive,' Cooke said. 'It's difficult to argue with the philosophy but we ought to be looking to change the law rather than decide there are some laws we aren't going to bother about.'