Well with another Six Nations just finished, I am relieved to be free for another year of having to tolerate Carling quaffing toffs watching pre-rugby football in the pub braying about how “no rugby player would have gone down under that challenge”.
I do enjoy the game of rugby as an annual curiosity though. Anyone who has read about the evolution of football will notice that the structure and formations of rugby bare a much closer to resemblance to the early forms of football – with large quantities of forwards in a line and very few players back when in possession of the ball and an offside rule where no-one is allowed ahead of the ball – than our own modern game that has been shaped so much by the relaxation of the offside rule and, of course, the more easily controllable spherical ball.
I am also keen on identifying aspects of other sports that may improve football (or find ideas that are to be avoided) and believe rugby can offer one concept in particular that I believe would help overcome one of my footballing pet hates.
Cynical fouls, or purposeful, unfair challenges to break up play or halt a dangerous counter-attack are ubiquitous in modern football. You see countless examples in almost every game and even I have been known to call on players like Alex Song, for instance, to learn how to give away these tactical fouls, with no intention of ever getting the ball, in the middle of the park, which are now integral part of defending. It’s not right though is it? Purposefully playing against the rules in order to gain a strategic advantage; written like that it is very similar to the universally abhorred practice of diving.
These two misconducts do, of course, receive the same punishment at present, a yellow card. I would suggest, however, that the yellow card does not carry a significant enough threat anymore. Players are too willing to use a deliberate foul to thwart a promising attack or dive to win a penalty and accept the punishment that follows.
In rugby, a player that commits any reasonably serious foul or a misdemeanour that deliberately prevents the progression of an attack is given a yellow card but also handed a sin bin, during which they must leave the field of play for ten minutes. I would argue that implementing this system in football would give yellow cards the preventative power that they need to dissuade players from actively giving away purposeful fouls and inhibiting attacking football.
During the 2010 Six Nations the overall scoring rate was four times higher during periods of sin bin than during that when both teams are at full strength. Powerplay periods in ice hockey (in effect when a player has been sin binned) are also seen as prime opportunities to score. Football of course is a different game and following a sending off teams can often play large parts of matches with less players, not always to their detriment. Surely though managers will be less pleased to see their disruptive midfielders giving away cynical fouls if it means they are not going to be on the field for the next ten minutes.
This is by no means an original suggestion. IFAB were said to have discussed a proposal to introduce sin bins in 2009. The wheels of football governance on any issue other than snoods seem to run rather slowly. I’m sure this issue will continue to be raised in Britain around this time of year as the success of sin bins in rugby is observed again. It is surely time they were trialled in football. I, for one, would like to see the demise of the cynical foul and believe that this would be an excellent start.