Sunday 20 December, 2020, by John Sprague
For the rugby faithful last Saturday saw the long awaited to rugby, albeit with greatly altered laws to accommodate the Covid threat. Thus Salcombe saw one of its biggest crowds, Boxing Day and Easter excluded, for some years with spectators from Kingsbridge, Ivybridge and of course Dartmouth swelling the crowd even though the bar had to remain closed. Social distancing was no problem along Salcombe’s long hard standing area and recently refurbished grandstand and expectations were high despite the threat of bad weather.
Unfortunately the necessary law changes greatly reduce the spectacle of the game and without the power elements of the scrum and maul and with the contest at the ruck much reduced, the resultant game is weak beer indeed. The two evenly matched sides both played well and there was certainly nothing weak about their tackling and defence. In the end the score came from a lucky turn of the ball deep in the second half enabling the lanky Dartmouth wing to race in from 50 metres out. It could just as easily have gone the other way and a draw would possibly have been a fairer result.
An interesting effect of the law changes was that the game served up at this level started to more closely resemble that on offer in the higher reaches of the game, even if much slower. Rucks were not fiercely contested so players were strung out in long defensive lines across the pitch and there was little room for attacks to make much headway. Kicking increased considerably, partly due to the new scrum law, but at times the aerial ping pong seen in Internationals was evident as both sides tried to find a route through to score. Both sides handled the high ball surprisingly well in the wind and rain and there were not many mistakes made on which the attackers could capitalise.
To sum up, it was good to see something like rugby back and no doubt as players adjust to the new laws the game will improve but in the meantime we can only wish for the return to normality.