David Flatman: The breakdown is broken and it's ruining game

Rugby can be fun and free-flowing again but the men in suits must act now to remove no-fly zone
Click to follow

At the risk of sounding a bit smug, I managed to sell my old flat in Bath at just the right time. I cannot claim this to be due to my mastery of economics and the British housing market, it was more down to luck.

My wife, then girlfriend, moved in and felt the place was just too "batchelory". She was right; I had lived there with Martyn Wood, Paul Sampson and Northampton's Scotty Gray over the years and we did not even own a mirror. No wonder we were never quite so successful with the ladies as our respective mothers had predicted.

So I was forced to trade in the lad-pad for a family house. To give my accidental success some sense of scale, the numbers involved were not exactly colossal (yes, should have stayed off the carbs and joined a football team) but, suffice it to say, there was enough left over after the renovations to splash out a bit on a couple of flashy tellys. Despite being a complete waste of money – they only work when the weather is perfect...and I live half an hour from Wales – they look desperately pretty and the sound is wonderful (I keep telling myself this matters).

It was then that an accountant friend suggested that, being a professional sportsman – and therefore an entertainer – I might be able to claim them as some sort of incurred expense and be rewarded with a nifty little tax break. So sue me, I tried it. It is not like I was trying to have my moat's hedge trimmed for free; the mother-in-law takes care of that.

Apparently the lady at the Inland Revenue laughed. Actually laughed. "I don't really think rugby counts," she said to my bespectacled buddy. "How dare she?" I asked. This was at the time when we at Bath, along with plenty of other Guinness Premiership sides, were chucking the ball around with the sort of abandon and ambition that made the likes of my old grandma turn off the television for fear of cardiac arrest.

The game was free and we were running. From everywhere. Were I to ask and be rejected now, though, I might see her point.

Now I realise I am a prop and that Mother Nature's efforts placed me in a position where I see more of my own colon than the game itself, but rugby does not seem quite the spectacle it so recently was. I think the breakdown has a lot to do with this.

What was once a pile of hardly writhing bodies has now become rugby's version of a no-fly zone. What was once a sporting image that made (some) women delight while footballers winced has morphed, thanks to the lawmakers, into a needlessly complex part of a sport already overladen with rules. And if you think the referee's whistle is annoying from the stands, try being three feet from it and not knowing what is going on.

It seems that the attacking side is now far more likely to be penalised once a tackle is made and the action hits the floor. This cannot be the way forward, in any sport. We played Ospreys a few weeks ago and in one 12-minute spell, six consecutive penalties went against the attacking side for infringements at the breakdown. Last week I was punished for not rolling away, despite being nowhere near the ball or the bloke trying to get hold of it and play. I was by no means in the way but the law is the law.

The defender now seems to have too much freedom to obstruct attackers and remove tempo from the game. Reintroducing regular quick ball by admitting this approach has failed and letting teams play positive rugby without so much fear may offend the odd openside flanker but, I suspect, would go some way to upping the try counts and making rugby fun again.

I do not blame the referees, as they are told which laws to observe and are assessed accordingly. It is the men in suits who need to take action. I read that this very subject is to be "discussed" by the IRB but I just wonder how long any changes – should they see the light – will take to arrive. This Saturday would be nice. I preferred the days when cat burglars feared for their lives with rampaging hulks hoofing into them as they tried to turn over the ball. Life was simpler when anyone lying in the way – deliberately or otherwise – could count on a few well-placed and maliciously thrown boots to aid their removal. We knew where we were then. I know where I'm not now, and that's in front of my shiny, underused television.