Super Rugby 2017

Week Fourteen

A Thought For The Week:

The World Rugby executive have approved six new Trial Law Amendments that will be implemented on the 1st of August 2017 in the Northern Hemisphere and on the 1st January 2018 in the Southern Hemisphere.

These changes are added to the five Trial Amendments made earlier this year. (There will be 11 2017 dated Trail Law Amendments in play at the same time, together with some that have come from previous years. It is a Bugger’s Muddle!)

Rugby Union’s single biggest problem standing in the way of worldwide rugby development is the size and complexity of the Laws contained in that thick tome titled “Laws of the Game Rugby Union.” We have harped on and on about the complexity of the game, the rules, and the stop-start nature of the game. We have spoken of the lack of continuity in play and the boredom of incessant stoppages. The average Test Match or Super Rugby game has somewhere between 30 and 35 minutes of actual play in a game that lasts for 80 or more, sometimes interminable minutes.

Aficionados of the game might be fully conversant with the Laws and their application, but these knowledgeable types are relatively few in number. Most spectators, or prospective spectators, are looking for entertainment, excitement, and an innovative, free-flowing game of rugby played at speed. They do not want to watch 60 minutes of scrums being set and reset. They do not want to watch everlasting lineouts, where teams call mini-conferences before eventually taking up their positions in the line, only for the hooker to cup his hand to his ear and wander back down the line to hear the call that was supposedly decided at the mini-conference a minute or two earlier. Then the ref blows his whistle and commands the two teams to space themselves correctly…..

Spectators do not want to watch interminable pick-and-go forward charges with ruck after ruck, after ruck after ruck as the ball moves laterally across the field. Spectators do not understand, or care, why the referee is penalizing the scrum or yelling about leaving the ball alone on the ground. They do not want to know or understand the laws that govern the maul, and why a team going forward is deprived of the ball if that maul stops moving…

Rugby is killing itself with far too many Laws and law interpretations that all slow the game down and make it more and more static.

Rugby is slowly strangling itself to death with a book of Laws that are so complex that few care to read it and even fewer actually know, or understand, all the Laws.

When the opportunity arrives to make changes to the Laws that will enhance the game and simplify understanding and application, World Rugby promptly shoots itself in both feet by introducing a “Law Trial Amendment” period that can and often does extend into the next decade or even longer.

Consider the fact that the Television Match Official has been part of rugby since 2001. It is now 2017. Sixteen years later the relevant law, Law 6.A.7, still talks about this being a LAW AMENDMENT TRIAL. Sixteen years??

If they cannot get it right in sixteen years of testing and trials then there is something very seriously flawed with the entire World Rugby Specialist Law Review Group and its processes that are supposed to oversee the changes to Laws and the Trial periods for such changes.

If you have never heard of them, the Law Review Group members are nominated by the top 10 unions (Six Nations and SANZAAR). Group composition includes directors of rugby, coaches, players and referee representatives. Every World Rugby member union and all the regional associations has an opportunity to propose law changes and trials. The current members are: Alain Rolland, Rhys Jones and Mark Harrington (all World Rugby), Nigel Melville (England), Ben Whitaker (Australia), David Nucifora (Ireland), Didier Retiere (France), Dave Rennie (New Zealand), Francesco Ascione (Italy), Rachael Burford (International Rugby Players’ Association), Chris Paterson (Scotland), Pablo Bouza (Argentina), Paul Adams (Wales) and Chean Roux (South Africa).

I will not detail the systems and processes adopted by the Group as they go about considering possible changes to the Laws. You can look it up on the World Rugby website if you care to do so. Suffice to say that the mind boggles at the bureaucracy of the entire process. I am also a little concerned at the make-up of the Group. I do not see too many top level ex-professional rugby players, current referees, or people who are in touch and au fait with the modern game amongst those names (Yes, I know Dave Rennie is part of the group, but he is the exception… Some might also argue that Chean Roux is of the modern era, but I am unsure of his credentials other than that he is a very good friend of Jurie Roux…..)

Back to those six new Trail Law Amendments.

The six new changes affect the scrum and the tackle/ruck with the object of making playing and refereeing in those areas simpler.

There is yet more talk about the scrumhalf feeding the ball into the scrum straight, but with a shoulder width bias. The old-fashioned “foot-up” is redefined somewhat. How and where the Eighth-man may play the ball in the scrum is redefined.

The tackler playing the ball after tackling is redefined, with a new approach to being offside when playing that ball.

We see a new definition of when a ruck is formed, a sort of a one-man ruck. We also see an end to that particularly English tactic of trying to get a foot to the ruck ball and then kicking it out of the ruck.

With the ongoing reservation that the Laws are far too complex and that there are far too many of them anyway, I have to say that I have no problem with the Trail Amendments introduced here. In each instance they make sense and will serve to speed the game up, a little.

Let’s look at each of them, I will add my comments after each:


The Six Amendments

1. Throwing the ball into the scrum (Laws 20.5 and 20.5 (d))

a. The referee will not signal to the scrumhalf, telling him to put the ball into the scrum.

b. The scrum-half must throw the ball in straight, but is allowed to align his left shoulder on the middle line of the scrum, therefore allowing him to stand a shoulder width towards his own side of the middle line.

Rationale: To promote scrum stability, a fair contest for possession while also giving the advantage to the team throwing in (the non-offending team).

Comment: Whether the referees will actually take any notice at all of the ball being put in skew remains questionable. I do, however, like the idea of the team putting the ball into the scrum having some advantage, with the scrumhalf aligning his left shoulder with the middle of the scrum. The team feeding the ball into the scrum should gain some advantage as they are the non-transgressing side in the moment that caused the scrum to be awarded in the first place.

I also like the return to the scrumhalf deciding when to put the ball into the scrum. The interference of a referee deciding when to allow the put in took away much of the scrum advantage gained by timing of the shove etc. Giving the decision back to the scrumhalf allows for a rediscovery of scrum timing between scrumhalf, hooker, and the rest of the pack. Remember when the hooker used to signal the scrumhalf with a tapped finger?

2. Handling in the scrum – exception (Law 20.9 (b))

The number eight shall be allowed to pick the ball from the feet of the second-rows.

Rationale: To promote continuity.

Comment: This should lead to quicker play off the back of the scrum, more 8/9 tactical plays, and less of those scrum pile-ups as the 8 waits for the moment when he may withdraw his head and play the ball. It will be easier to clear a retreating scrum and reduce the number of unnecessary penalties. The game should flow a bit more. I like it.

3. Striking after the throw-in (Law 20 )

Once the ball touches the ground in the tunnel, any front-row player may use either foot to try to win possession of the ball. One player from the team who put the ball in must strike for the ball.

Sanction: Free-kick
Rationale: To promote a fair contest for possession.

Comment: Back to the good old days! I like it. I also like the fact that one player MUST strike for the ball. We will see a return of the striking hooker rather than the lumbering ox who simply scrums.

4. Tackler Law 15.4 (c)

The tackler must get up before playing the ball and then can only play from their own side of the tackle “gate”.

Rationale: To make the tackle/ruck simpler for players and referees and more consistent with the rest of that law.

Comment: The tackler is now subject to the same offside rules as everyone else. Makes common sense, and makes it much easier to police the tackle.

5. Ruck (Law 16)

A ruck commences when at least one player is on his feet and over the ball which is on the ground (tackled player, tackler). At this point the offside lines are created. Players on their feet may use their hands to pick up the ball as long as this is immediate. As soon as an opposition player arrives, no hands can be used.

Rationale: To make the ruck simpler for players and referees.

Comment: Simpler and better. Not much more that one can say as the ruck still needs cleaning up to eliminate the endless pick-and-go rugby that bores the back teeth out of their sockets.

6. Other ruck offences (Law 16.4)

A player must not kick the ball out of a ruck. The player may only hook it in a backwards motion.

Sanction: Penalty

Rationale: To promote player welfare and to make it consistent with scrum law.

Comment: I like it. I have never liked the idea of those long-legged locks and flanks hooking a leg over or round a ruck to try and kick the ball through. If they were trying to hook the ball back to their own side it might be acceptable, but invariably there is a mess of player flesh on the ground that prevents the ball from being hooked, so they toe it through.

(Props should still be allowed to try and kick the ball out of rucks. Their legs are usually too short to reach and it could add some entertainment value to the ruck as they attempt ballerina-like movements to reach the pill!)

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby continually reviews the laws to ensure that the game is as enjoyable, simple and safe as possible at all levels. I would like to thank our unions for their full support throughout the process, the experts who evaluated the closed trial data and look forward to seeing the full results of the global trial.”

Rugby Committee Chairman John Jeffrey added: “These law amendments are designed to improve the experience of those playing and watching the game at all levels and to avoid negative play where possible. The results of the closed trials were highly-encouraging with more ball out from the scrum, fewer penalties and better stability, which has a player welfare benefit too.”

Implementation this year (2017) will enable at least a year of evaluation in practice and play before the moratorium on law amendment begins a year out from Rugby World Cup 2019.

Overall, I like the amendments, I am just not sure whether we are actually moving in the right direction with the entire Law Amendment process.

I continue to wonder whether these Law Amendments will make a difference to the uninitiated spectator? That person who wants an afternoon of entertainment without having to constantly ask “Why have they stopped playing?” “Why has he penalized them?” “What are they doing now?”

Will it make a difference to the Australian spectators who have abandoned rugby? Will more than 9 771 people pitch up at Canberra Stadium for a quarterfinal featuring their local team, the Brumbies, against the exciting Hurricanes? Will it make a difference in Bloemfontein or Port Elizabeth. Will spectators return to Kings Park and Loftus Versveld?

I think not.

The entire Law Book needs to be revised and rewritten, the whole game needs to be reinvented!

Super Rugby Semi-Finals

Before we preview the two semi-finals, let us share a thought about the referees.

In my review of last weekend’s quarterfinals, I made some comment about the howls of anger about the performances of a number of the referees. I also attempted to point out the complexity of the job a referee must do, and the pressures that come with the job. Some of you acknowledged that this is not an easy job, often even a thankless and lonely job too.

Some, however, persist with calling for certain referees to be hung, drawn, and then quartered. Accusations of bias raised their ugly head, and have become even louder now that the referees and match officials for the two semi-finals have been announced.

The real issue is perhaps not one of referees being biased. Accusing a referee of bias in the modern age is stretching it a bit, but why does SANZAAR persist in leaving the door open?

On Saturday four South African officials will oversee the Lions and Hurricanes at Ellis Park.

Over in New Zealand the officials are also local, with one strange little anomaly. Glen Jackson, the referee when the Crusaders face the Chiefs, played 60 games……… for the Chiefs!

The referee’s job is tough enough without another added layer of scrutiny and finger-pointing.

Why has SANZAAR not gone the route of using neutral referees? I can understand why they might not use Australians for both the semi-finals, but Angus Gardiner is surely good enough for one of the games?

Why are they not following the process used in Test Match rugby of guaranteeing neutral referees?

Why should Super Rugby, especially the playoffs and the Final, be any different?

Super Rugby’s cost cutting excuse for not having neutral officials is poor, if not laughable when we consider their penchant for having week long seminars, bun-fights and shindigs in London or Paris when the SANZAAR countries are all in the Southern Hemisphere?

Come on SANZAAR, get it right, please!