Recently it was revealed that the NZRFU,and SARFU will be trialing some law variations at ITM (NZ) and Vodacom (SA) Level**. If you’re not familiar with either competition then suffice to say both are the premier domestic rugby competitions in their native lands (Super Rugby being cross boarders).
The full list is available here and they are too numerous to breakdown individually, but for me the most interesting law variations boil down to:
- 6 points for a try with penalties & drop goals reduced to 2 points – 8 points for a penalty try no conversion.
- Two on-field referees
- Removal of the 'gate' entry at the breakdown meaning the Tackler and arriving players can enter from midpoint of breakdown as long as they come from an onside position
- Tackler no longer has 360 degree rights to the ball
- Offside lines one meter behind hindmost foot at breakdown
- A variety of Scrum variations well explained here.
The laws clearly focus on promoting attacking play, cleaning up the break down and creating time and space for the attacking side and surely something needs to be done at the breakdown, and on face value the law changes remove the scope for referees interpretation (i.e. the gate) – though it has to be questionable whether two referees will actually provide consistency of interpretation.
A number of minor amendments come into effect in 2016 while closed law trials announced in September get underway. https://t.co/RjuMriRBjg
— Brett Gosper (@brettgosper) December 24, 2015
When they were first announced I said on Twitter that I didn’t think the offside line at the ruck was required and after some reflection I'm at the same conclusion, and will add to that there are quite a few I’m struggling to see the positive aspects of.
The primary one would be the revised scoring system where, by increasing the try to 6 points and reducing all kicks to 2, the Lawmakers aim to promote attacking rugby. The reasoning is that with the try worth 6 points teams will aim to score more try.
Perhaps, but my preference for scoring would have been an idea I heard floated by Paul Grayson ahead of the World Cup:
- try 5 points
- Penalty and Drop goals 3 points, Conversion 3 points.
- Therefore a converted try would be worth 8 points.
Let’s think about this for a minute, by reducing the penalty and drop goal to 2 points my belief is they’ll actually promote negative play.
Well for me, as a coach, if my team has the option of conceding 2 points or 6, it’s almost a no brainer. Concede the 2 points! It instantly puts me into a negative mindset because my team can offend with impunity. If my team is in possession then i want them to score tries, but if a team is killing the ball with impunity i may as well take the kick at goal and build the score.
What we really want is that decision taken away from the team and the natural flow of the game to be directed towards scoring tries with the penalty kick a just punishment for negative play. I feel that by increasing the conversion to 3 you actually reward attacking play by giving the attacking team a chance at extra points from the conversion therefore more incentive to go for the try – but you don’t reduce the negative impact of the penalty on the offending team and you also keep the importance of a good goal kicker in the team.
We also can't keep increasing the try value, what next 7 for a try? At some point the overall value of scoring HAS to come down – reduce tries and kicks – 4(try) + 1 (conversion) + 2 Penalty or similar otherwise the scoring system will get even more ridiculous.
Offside at the RUCK and MAUL:
First though you’ve got to play the game, and straight away the offside variations raise a red flag for me, especially moving the Ruck and Maul offside line back one meter.
When the offside line at the scrum was moved back under the ELV’s in 2008 (I think) it was proclaimed that it would give backs more room to attack in.
But in reality we didn’t suddenly see a shift in back line based attacking rugby – what we saw was a desperate race to the gain line, between attackers and the tackle line, resulting in bigger midfield players and backrow players clattering into each other with the extra 5 meter run up. Likewise we’ve had the 10 meter line at the lineout for as long as I can remember, and yet the game has still drifted towards the big ball carriers getting over the gain line rather than teams utilising that space.
Moving it back at the ruck and maul again add’s an incentive to get over the gainline first, rather than attack the space and a wide defence is a wide defence regardless of if it’s 1 or 5 meters back. Moving the offside line back also brings in interpretation, whereas the hindmost foot of the ruck defines a very clear offside line that is very visible.
Personally I’d prefer referees to just police the current offside line properly. Most teams will creep because they can, and realistically how much does one meter slow down a fast aggressive tackle line anyway – defensively i like my team to stand off a couple of paces to avoid offside calls but a well policed offside line allows attackers to play flat, on the gainline it gives them time rather than space, which in my opinion is much more valuable.
No more through the Gate:
The removal of the gate is another interesting move. It does absolutely remove the room for interpretation (though that two referee issues does spring to mind again), and in theory it will open the breakdown to turnovers (not having to come through the gate means the jackler can get in on the ball from the side (as long as he comes from onside) so teams with a fetcher in their midst will be rewarding – emphasising the continued need for multi-skilled players.
But again as a defensive coach if I know the counter ruck will come from 3 directions rather than one (through the gate) why would I ask my players to commit to the breakdown – it’s better for my defensive line to just fan out and prepare themselves to make up that 1 meter lost from the new offside law trying to force errors – bringing us back to teams sending bigger runners down the middle so they won't got to ground until support is there.
So to the SCRUM.
The front row substitution variation, of you must always have 8 in the scrum even with uncontested scrums (thus forfeiting a back) is a really good variation in my opinion. It has the potential of eliminating weaker scrumaging teams going uncontested for any other reason than genuine lack of replacements.
I also like some of the other scrum laws, such as folding in and removing the hit. This should make the formation of the scrum a lot quicker, and de-power the hit substantially, both good things in my opinion, increasing the technical prop and hooker requirements.
The put in to the Scrum change of Scrum Half can align his outside shoulder to the middle of the scrum, thus feeding to the right of the scrums midway line should eliminate the obvious skewed scrums, if policed right. If not we’ll just end up with a rugby league style 2nd row feed.
Removing the loss of the ball to the unintentional wheel by the team feeding the scrum seems a relatively positive, but again I worry that a team with the head and feed can simply wheel the scrum if the come under pressure rather than collapse or come up giving the penalty to the dominant scrum – of course that should be removed with the illegal wheel remaining a penalty sanction but it adds another layer of complexity to an area already difficult enough to ref.
No more Dead Kicks, and losing possession:
The carrying the ball back into the 22/touch/dead variations, where if the ball is collected in field by someone out of play they are deemed to have carried it out of play, is really positive in my mind, eliminating that small margin of error from a missed kick – and the defending team still gets a 22 dropout advantage.
I also like the idea that if the ball is ripped the attacking player is free to play on.
Time off please:
A really positive move is the time regulation adjustment, meaning if a team is awarded a penalty they can kick to touch and still take the lineout after the 80 minutes mark. That should assist in stopping the defending side killing the ball in the oppositions half in a very close game.
To finish I’m going to caveat that this whole piece is my interpretation of the law trials as I understand them – it's opinion and I’m sure others will interpret them differently and ultimately as we haven’t seen them in use the actual implementation the deeper impact is yet unknown. I'm sure they will vary from coach to coach, player to player and Ref to Ref. If these trials come to fruition then I can't see this having a huge impact outside of the Professional game, the lower levels of Union have for the most part remained relatively positive, and there has long been a separation between professional and middle league amateur Rugby teams, but like most things a lot of it will be if coaches and teams approach them with a positive mindset.
** the trials laws will also be put in practice in the AIL Div 1A (Ireland) and U18 (France)
Author: The Dead Ball Area
Graeme Forbes has run The Dead Ball Area since 2014.
You can find his material on Green and Gold Rugby, Rugbydump Coaching and Youtube. You can also find him randomly arguing with people on Twitter.