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In the northern hemisphere there is anger at the move to all but do away with one of the things that make rugby the great game it is. In the southern hemisphere a handful of men are trying to hold on to a thing that now adds nothing to the sport. The Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) decree to outlaw tackles above the waist at non-professional level from this summer has been greeted with dismay and confusion.

The science, if there is any at all, behind the decision is to make the game safer and better. The reaction, and there has been plenty, suggests that the RFU has made a pronouncement on little more than a hope and prayer. 

The obsession with doing away with the upright tackle and the danger of the head-high hit has plummeted to new levels of desperation and confusion. There was no engagement with the community of rugby players, clubs, referees and coaches it will affect, nor, according to one report, has there been a clear definition of what the “waist” actually means.

There are a lot of community players with a lot of waist. Is it just above the groin area? Or in line with the hip area? Or where the tummy begins its swelling into beerdom? 

Andy Farrell, the coach of Ireland and father of Owen, he of the prominent shoulders, believes tackling lower could be more dangerous for the tackler: “If you are ever just saying to a kid ‘you need to tackle lower’, then you become even more vulnerable in my opinion. If you’re just sitting there with your arms in front, trying to wrap, with your head down, and so on you’re a sitting duck. The coaching and technique of how it’s applied to tackling below the waist is absolutely crucial, otherwise we’re going to have a serious problem,” said Farrell. 

All of the focus in making the game safer has been on the tackler and not the ball carrier, who controls where he is going to be tackled as much as the tackler. The ball carrier moves, ducks, sways and steps to avoid the tackle. The tackler ducks and tries to wrap, but his target is a moving one, and in the modern era, an incredibly strong and fast-moving one. 

Wynand Claassen, the former Bok captain, and his handful of supporters who seek to declare Newlands a heritage site are neither fast-moving nor do they have a strong argument. They waited for more than two-and-a-half years to make their claim to stop the sale and development of Newlands that Western Province rugby desperately needs to stay alive. 

It’s a bewildering step to take, one that makes little sense. The history of Newlands is a white rugby history, a throwback to the days of apartheid and segregation. Saving it for historical reasons serves no-one any good, save for those who long for the good old pre-1994 days. 

“We’re not trying to be nasty or whatever,” Claassen told Sport24 in 2022. “We aren’t saying they must still play rugby there. Obviously, that won’t happen; we realise that. We’re trying to look after our heritage. There’s not much left. People don’t care. They just knock things down, and we are concerned about that. We want to preserve what was there and let it remain part of the history.” 

But, Wynand, people do care about preserving history. It’s just that Newlands should not be part of it. It has no place. As David Moseley wrote in 2011: “Newlands is tired, folks. It’s old and decrepit, probably not unlike the people in charge of Western Province rugby. It’s cold and wet. Despite what the rugby bosses tell you, the facilities are awful. The bars stink, the toilets are vile, and you can’t even enjoy your beer on the stands. That’s no way to treat your loyal fans.

“The people they should be thinking of are the delusional fans who traipse to Newlands in the wind, wet and cold, to watch their team choke in another semifinal. They deserve better than that dark, dank miserable chunk of concrete. The union uses their fan numbers as defence against not moving, which makes no sense at all. ‘Fans come to see the team, not to marvel at the wonder of Newlands, you numb-nuts.’ They’ll go wherever the team plays. And I dare say more would come if you offered them a better environment in which to watch their crumbling team.”

The Stormers have moved on, to the wide open plains of Green Point and a new future. It is beyond time that some of SA’s former players do the same.

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