ALL Blacks and Crusaders captain Richie McCaw hopes rugby doesn't slip back to the bad old days of 2007 – when the sport became dull aerial ping pong – because sides are too scared to take the ball into the tackle.
Last week All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith told the Press the breakdown is an area of concern, particularly as it's been ruled on differently in northern and southern hemispheres.
"Guys are piling into rucks from all directions and flopping over the ball and getting away with it. It's a big concern and we are making it known to the appropriate people," Smith said.
If sides at the World Cup fear they could lose possession at the tackle, they're likely to revert to the tedious tactic of four years ago, which is to continually kick for territory.
Last year referees ruled heavily in favour of the attacking team at the breakdown and that resulted in high scoring and entertaining rugby.
But this season McCaw has noticed the battle at the breakdown is a more even contest.
"Last year they [referees] were really hard on the tackler getting out and that gave you confidence to use the ball," McCaw told Sunday News.
"It was always going to come back a little bit and more kicking has come in – whether that's a direct result of the tackler getting away with a bit more I'm not sure.
"The refs I've spoken to want to make sure they keep the attitude that there is reward for attacking with the ball but also allowing a contest.
"Every game is going to look different, but I think they realise they want to keep it on that track.
"It's going to be up to the players and the refs to make sure they keep the standard up.
"If it does slip back, it's an easy thing to get right again and I'm sure they'll make sure they'll keep on ensuring that teams do what they're supposed to do to get to the ball."
Meanwhile, with the Crusaders having two more games this season, against the Blues in Timaru and the Hurricanes in Wellington, McCaw says important his team hit the end of the campaign in good shape and they're not too tired after the longer season.
"If you go right back to the Super 12, it was a sprint then and it was quite easy for guys to play every week," he said.
"Realistically now, if you're going to have guys in good shape come finals time, they can't play every minute up to that point.
"The byes give you a couple of weeks where you don't play but you still need to use your whole squad now.
"Managing your squad is so important now and it comes down to adapting to the longer season.
"Like always, it will come down to the last two or three weeks. You can do a lot of good work and get yourself into a good position but if you drop your guard at the end then all that work has been for nothing.
"You need to be able to pace yourself through the season but still be able to continue to improve and use everyone to make sure you're in the right shape at the end."
- Sunday News