Law discussion: Nitpicking at kick-offs
The laws of any game are important. They are what makes the games different – the inner distinctive nature of games. Rugby differs from tiddlywinks because the laws are different. That is why changing the laws is important. Changing the laws changes the game. It also would change the game if laws were overlooked.
Are laws overlooked? Certainly there are laws that are ignored or, if you like, differently applied. The most obvious is the straight, fair feed to a scrum and, even more so, foot up in the scrums.
Over the weekend there were three Six Nations matches and nine Super Rugby matches. I watched all 12. There was one free kick in those dozen matches _ against little Leighton Eksteen of the Eastern Province Kings, playing in his first Super Rugby match – one in over 150 scrums. And no cases of foot up. In fact when last have you seen foot-up freekicked?
It is hard to believe that scrumhalves and hookers are now so saintly.
Does the referee have the right to overlook laws?
Law 6.A.4 THE DUTIES OF THE REFEREE IN THE PLAYING ENCLOSURE
(a) The referee is the sole judge of fact and of Law during a match. The referee must apply fairly all the Laws of the Game in every match.
The answer is: No, he does not have the right to overlook laws.
But then the refereeing outlook has changed. Now referees are encouraged to overlook infringements in the interest of the more entertaining (moneymaking) game. The art, they are told, is knowing when not to blow the whistle. If it does not affect the game, they are told, let it go.
Without a doubt the best way to achieve consistency in refereeing is to apply the laws as written. That is also the easiest way to protect the integrity of the game. We could go on and on about this.
Look at the clip:
Italy play England and Carlo Canna of Italy opens the scoring with a penalty goal. George Ford, the England flyhalf, is to kick off. To do so he steps over the halfway line – both feet over.
Play goes on.
Law 13.1 WHERE AND HOW THE KICK-OFF IS TAKEN
(a) A team kicks off with a drop kick which must be taken at or behind the centre of the half way line.
(b) If the ball is kicked off by the wrong type of kick, or from the incorrect place, the opposing
team has two choices:
To have the ball kicked off again, or
To have a scrum at the centre of the half way line and they throw in the ball.
Let's look at the next clip.
The Brumbies play the Hurricanes. Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes opens the scoring with a penalty goal and Matt Toomua of the Brumbies kicks off. There is a line of players to his left and a line to the right, all ready to charge after the kick. When Toomua kicks the ball 10 of those players to his left and right are ahead of the kick. The one furthest ahead and best placed to chase the kick is Joe Tomane.
Play goes on.
Law 13.3 POSITION OF THE KICKER’S TEAM AT A KICK-OFF
All the kicker’s team must be behind the ball when it is kicked. If they are not, a scrum is formed at the centre. Their opponents throw in the ball.
After all, the argument goes, the kicking team got no advantage from it. If they got no advantage from it, why did they do it – Ford repeatedly – during the match? If it is just as good as kicking from the right place, why not kick from the right place?
Imagine the uproar if this happened! A team kicks 60 metres downfield. The opposing fullback with nobody within 30 metres of the ball, knocks on, and the referee lets play go on. Imagine the uproar. And yet he got no advantage from the knock-on, which, in fact slowed him down.
There's a story about Napoleon. A man came to him to ask him for a job in his navy. Napoleon sent him away without a job and from his window watched the man trudging across the square in front of the palace. The man saw a small coin on the ground and Napoleon sent a flunkey to call the man back. The man got a job and rose to be an admiral. Napoleon believed that the man who is careful about small things will be even more careful about big things.
Perhaps if we worried about foot-up and the crooked feed we could make scrumming better.
By Paul Dobson