Wed 17 Apr 2019 | 02:29

Law discussion: A fair deal for defenders

Law discussion: A fair deal for defenders
Wed 17 Apr 2019 | 02:29
Law discussion: A fair deal for defenders

SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com‘s law guru Paul Dobson looks at a new trend that has emerged among referees.


Simply put, rugby football is about attack and defence. Win one of those and you are at least half way to winning the match.

The team that has the ball can attack. The team that does not have the ball will want to defend – and see if they cannot get the ball and become attackers.

In Melbourne on Friday, 12 April 2019, the Stormers played the Rebels. In the match, the Rebels had 68% of possession, i.e. 68% of the chances to attack. The Stormers had 32%.

But the Stormers won and did so handsomely – 41-24.

They won because their defence beat the Rebels’ attack. They won the defence and so the match. Defence can well be a victory, as it was in this match.

If a man has the ball and is confronted by a defender, he has options: he can pass the ball, kick the ball, sidestep to his left or sidestep to his right, swerve to the left or swerve to the right, or he can seek to power his way past the defender.


The defender has only one option if he is to do his duty as a defender. He must tackle the attacker.

If the defender tackles the attacker, he wins a victory. Defence defeats attack. His tackle may be its own reward or it may be a part of winning the match, the big victory. Every tackle a Stormer made was a contribution to this victory in Melbourne.

The stats are interesting.

The Stormers had 196 tackles to make. They made 174 and missed 22.
The Rebels had 92 tackles to make. They made 59 and missed 33.


The Stormers won; the Rebels lost. Victory was the big reward.

In the Laws of the Game, both attackers and defenders have rights, but in practice do they have an equal share of those rights?

Does the present way of refereeing (applying the laws) not favour the beaten attacker? He was been beaten in the tackle and yet, it seems, he is allowed greater freedom to exercise his rights than the (victorious) tackler does. This may be as a result of an effort to make the game more entertaining – as if defence could not possibly be entertaining.

Listen to a referee’s order.

He calls “Hands off”, and he is really talking to the defenders while the (beaten) attackers are allowed to scrabble with their hands.

“Side entry” seems to apply to defenders far more than it does attackers.

There was an incident in the match between the Stormers and the Rebels which suggests that the attacking team (the team with the ball) has better treatment than the defending team. It’s not an uncommon situation.

On 17 minutes, there is a scrum.

Let’s look to the laws which become relevant as the Rebels win the scrum.

Law 19.31 All players not participating at the scrum remain at least five metres behind the hindmost foot of their team.
32 When the hindmost foot of a team is in in-goal or within five metres of that team’s goal line, the offside line for that team’s non-participants is the goal line.
Sanction: Penalty.

33 As soon as the scrum ends, offside lines no longer apply.

The players not participating at the scrum are usually those from flyhalf to fullback. As this scrum is set, both sets of backs are at least five metres behind their hindmost foot. For the Rebels, that means Quade Cooper and all the backs beyond him. For the Stormers, that means Jean-Luc du Plessis and all the back beyond him.

It is the Rebels’ scrum. Will Genia puts the ball into the scrum.

The ball is still in the scrum when
the Rebels’ flyhalf, Quade Cooper, advances to be just behind the hindmost feet on his side of the scrum.
the Stormers’ flyhalf, Jean-Luc du Plessis advances towards Cooper.

The referee penalises Du Plessis.

Du Plessis is flabbergasted because that is what his coach had told him to do.
Senior player Damian de Allende goes to the referee to point out that Cooper had advanced first.

The referee says: “Yeah, yeah, but you still came up early. Back you go.”

That does not make sense.

If each team knocks on in quick succession, the scrum does not go to the team that knocked on first. The principle of “first infringement” applies.

Here Cooper went offside first but he has the laissez-faire of being an attacker.

It is, of course, a great advantage for the team that wins the scrum to advance early, for in a couple of strides they are over the advantage line.

The same is true of a lineout where the team winning the ball often advances inside the 10-metre offside line, which is advantageous.

By the way, the entertainment value of leeway for the team with the ball is dubious. It has led to tedious one-pass phases that really are beaten attacks in which the ball carrier’s side is allowed to dive on and go to ground with greater freedom than the defenders and the scrumhalf is allowed to enjoy time-wasting immunity.

By Paul Dobson

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