Thursday, March 23, 2006

Thigh binding and rugby's grey areas

Something I only figured out recently. I had noticed that rugby players have recently taken to wearing a strange plaster and foam binding in the mid-thigh region. I had assumed that this was to treat some specific injury or was some new fad dreamed up by sports physiotherapists, not unlike the nose clips (to aid breathing) that players wore for a brief while some years ago. But thanks to a question posted on the BBC rugby site I have been alerted to the fact that these bindings are generally on the thighs of the line out jumpers and are there to help provide something for the jumpers supporters (or lifters) to grip on when they assist the jumper. There is nothing technically illegal about this but it doesn't seem right somehow. Where should the line be drawn? Would it then be OK for the jumpers to have rubber handles attached to their legs? Would it be acceptable for jumper to have sprung boots?

What is clear in modern rugby union is that the professional era has encouraged everyone to operate as close to the legal line as possible. The teams that succeed most at this , whether it be hovering on the offside line, holding on to the ball for that split second longer at the breakdown or slyly abusing the 'blood-bin' law to rotate players (especially those in the front row) are those that come out on top. It's never too long before the other sides pick up on these patterns and instead of challenging them or referring them to the IRB lawmakers teams move into this grey area and start employing these almost illegal patterns themselves. The attitude seems to be one of a classic "if you beat 'em, then join em" mindset.

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