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Friday, September 17, 2010

Does women's rugby need rule changes?

Interesting article today on Scrumqueens by Sunday Times journalist Stephen Jones, who has (uniquely?) been to every Women's world cup since the first in 1991. The article mainly looks at how much better the women's game has become - even since 2006 - but highlights one continuing problem. Kicking.

Even the best kickers, Jones says, do not kick the ball (either from hand, or as a place kick) nearly as far as the average man. As a result infringements that would be punished with three points in the men's game go unpunished as the women kickers cannot take full advantage of the penalties. This encourages teams to kill the ball far more in women's rugby (I think he may have been thinking about New Zealand here!).

Jones then comes up with some suggestions for rule changes that would apply just to women's (and therefore also girls') rugby, including allowing a penalty to be taken from anywhere that is the same distance from the posts as the offence - ie. the penalty could be moved from the touchline to in front of the posts if it was in kickable range, or from the centre of the field to near the touchline if the aim was to hit touch and gain ground.

Interesting ideas - but would they be workable? How would referees and coaches adjust? And if this is a problem in women's rugby, then the same problem must also occur in junior boy's rugby - should they have the same rule changes? What do you think? I can't say that I agree - to have women's rugby played to different rules (even relatively minor difference) would, I think, cause more problems than it would solve.

Kicking is a problem nonetheless. This is partly because girls very rarely kick - and are not really encouraged to try - partly because coaches are taught to coach boys who would kick all day if you let them! This is probably because girls at school tend to play games like netball and hockey (games with no kicking) whereas boys tend to play football. However, the main problem is that women are simply smaller (on average) than men, and simply cannot kick as hard (its all about the speed of your foot when it hits the ball, which is partly related to the length of your leg - think circles and radiuses and 2πr and stuff - see, maths can apply to the real world!). In other words if a man and a woman had the same amount of muscle, the man would kick harder.

Some sports change the equipment for women, and the RFUW have occasionally tried a smaller ball (size 4.5), but while this may improve handling it could actually make kicking even harder - surprisingly a lighter ball will probably not go as far (its all to do with impetus and aerodynamics - we're into physics now!).

So is there a solution - assuming that there is a real problem? Well, the fact is that New Zealand did get three yellow cards in the final, which would have made a difference to the result if England could have been able to take advantage of them. Would the answer be to simply be that women's (and girls'?) rugby is more strictly refereed? How would that go down with players...


  1. Hi John! I'm actually a fan of rugby games. My cousin even played in the women's rugby league. I think that changing the rules in women's division will pose several issues for the players. I know some of my cousin's teammates and they're very good kickers. Hopefully, they would be able to polish the rules for the women's division, the soonest possible time.

    Very intriguing post. Thanks.

  2. Anonymous12:36 AM

    The smaller ball (Gilbert Vision) has definitely improved handling amongst high school aged players (age 14 - 19) on the girls high school team I coach in Canada. I haven't noticed any appreciable difference in kicking.


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