Keeping in touch with the new rules at Twickers

NOW that the rugby season is nearing its end, and selection for the British Lions is imminent, people are asking if the changes in the rules are working . . .

I don't know why I said that. It's not true. What people are asking is: 'What on earth are the changes in the rules?'. They have been lectured on the new rules, they have watched them in operation and may have even played the game according to the new rules, but most people still don't know what they are.

So here, as I understand it, is a rundown of the present situation.

1 Of the two home rugby internationals broadcast in one day, the full 80-minute, ball-by-ball match will never be half as exciting as the other, highlights-only, match.

2 If a match is dour and uninspired but the scorelines are quite close, the commentator shall say, as often as possible: 'Well, this may not be a classic game of rugby, but my goodness it is exciting]'

3 If a three-quarter shall miss a simple pass, the commentator shall not utter the words: 'Why this incompetent was ever picked for England is beyond my comprehension', but instead shall say: 'Oh, dear, that pass didn't quite go to hand'.

4 If a three-quarter shall make a simple catch of the ball, the commentator shall say: 'Didn't he do well to gather that one]'.

5 If the three-quarter shall catch the ball, and run forward straight into a bunch of opposition players who promptly crush him to the ground, the commentator shall not say: 'Why didn't the idiot pass?', but instead shall say either: (a) 'A wonderful attempt at a break there', or (b) 'He drew the opposition nicely but couldn't get his pass in', or (c) 'He did well to resist the temptation to kick'.

6 If any forward shall catch the ball, the commentator shall say: 'Well, this is rare, delightful, end-to-end stuff'.

7 If any forward shall catch the ball and pass it to someone else, the commentator shall say: 'We are seeing some wonderful ball skills today'.

8 If nothing else happens during the next five minutes, we shall see that moment of ball skill again and again, in slow motion and from reverse angle.

9 If, at any point during any of the above, the referee shall blow the whistle, the commentator shall not say, as he did under the old rules: 'Well, I haven't the faintest idea what that was for', or 'That must have been for something we didn't see'. Instead he shall say: 'Well, under the new rules that is of course an infringement', without explaining what exactly the infringement is.

10 If the referee shall blow the whistle again, the commentator shall say: 'Don't forget, of course, as I'm afraid the forwards seem to have done again, that nowadays it's forbidden to come into the scrum from the wrong side, or to move after you have played the ball, or to attempt to play the ball when you are still standing, or to fail to release the ball if someone stamps on you, and, rightly or wrongly, that is the decision of the referee . . . Bill?'

11 The person addressed as Bill shall then say: 'Whatever the rights and wrongs of the new rules, the English lads couldn't have put more into it than they have this afternoon.'

12 Under the new rules, all rugby players are lads, not men. In the rather special case of commentator Bill McLaren, they are always big lads, as in: 'The big lad from Kelso'.

13 Players' educational qualifications, however irrelevant to the game, may be dragged in at any moment by the commentator, as in: 'This big, 24-year-old lawyer from Kelso Grammar School, the first Old Kelsonian in more than 25 years to have played on both wings for Scotland, though not in the same game, that honour of course still belongs to Watsonian Hugh McBlaikie, whose dazzling runs for Scotland in the post-war period are still remembered in the wee Highland village of . . .'

14 In the unlikely event of a try being scored, Bill McLaren will announce, 'Well, there'll be dancing in the streets of (insert the name of the try-scorer's home town) tonight]'

15 If a player lies stunned and motionless on the field, the commentator shall say: 'Someone's had a bit of a knock, I'm afraid'.

16 If the player is carried off on a stretcher, the response will be: 'He's taken a bit of a thump there, I'm afraid'.

17 If he is taken off dead, the commentator shall say: 'Well, it would appear that stopping breathing after you've played the ball is a sending-off offence these days . . . Bill?'