Sir Steve Hansen slams World Rugby’s approach to improve the game

David Skippers

Former All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen coaching in 2023.

Ex-All Blacks head coach Sir Steve Hansen has criticised World Rugby’s approach in trying to improve the game after the governing body recently revealed that it would explore some recommendations in a bid to speed up the sport and enhance fan experience.

World Rugby hosted its Shape of the Game forum on Thursday in London where major stakeholders gathered to “reimagine the spectacle and grow rugby’s share of attention within an increasingly competitive global sports and entertainment market”.

Five areas were agreed to by the group for World Rugby “to explore in collaboration with key stakeholders” before they will present a detailed plan to the federation’s executive board for consideration.

Amongst the areas of interest are speed and flow, language and presentation of the game, the women’s game, player welfare and wellbeing, and disciplinary process review.

Dismissive of the recommendations

However, Hansen was dismissive of the recommendations and questioned why the role of the TMO was not being made redundant, something which he called for after last year’s Rugby World Cup in France.

“Without having all the detail behind them, I suppose that’s not fair. But their first one there about speed and flow of the game, there’s no mention of getting rid of TMOs and things like that that are stopping the game for so long,” he told Newstalk ZB.

When speaking on the speed and flow recommendation, Hansen indicated that part of that suggested speeding up the “use it” call by referees at the breakdown — something he feels is already being done.

“They’re doing that anyway. Are they really going to achieve what they want just scratching the surface, or are they going to go deep enough and actually do what the fans would love them to do?” he said.

The 64-year-old drew a comparison between World Rugby’s process and that of Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys, who he said took a fan-first approach to the NRL and have produced a product that aligns with the desires of the audience.

World Rugby operates on a larger scale than the NRL, but Hansen said the global governing body tend to overcomplicate things.

“I’m not sure how often World Rugby go to their fans. In my time they never came to the coaches very often and just reading what they’ve written here, I don’t think it’s enough,” he said.

“Common sense is an overused word because it’s not that common. Sometimes we complicate things by searching for answers by overthinking the question. The question is, what do they want? What does our game need to make it faster and more enjoyable to watch for you as a fan? Or you as a player? You as a coach? You as a referee?

“Then compile the answers and [find] the common threads. Then it’s how can we create solutions to these common threads? Or how can we create a way to play the game that these common threads come together?”

Hansen wants World Rugby to be more adaptable and adjustable

The man who guided New Zealand to World Cup glory in 2015 urged World Rugby to be more adaptable and adjustable when it came to making tough decisions regarding changes to benefit rugby — whether that is bringing in something new or taking things away if they’re not helping to deliver the best possible product.

“Yes, we’ve got little change happening here and there, but then someone will go ‘oh no we can’t change that because we’re in a [World Cup] cycle and it wouldn’t be right’, then they go and shoot themselves in the foot with those things anyway,” added Hansen.

“The final was a classic example at the World Cup. You’re not allowed to go past two or three rucks with the TMO and they blow that out of the water and rule out a try. It’s one thing putting things in place and another thing delivering them, but if those things are inhibiting us, stop it. Be more flexible.”

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