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Breakdown blunders: The real problem with this law

FOCUS ON THE LAWS: Erudite Springbok turned pundit Dawie Snyman is shining the spotlight on referees once again – this time about the capricious manner in which they apply breakdown laws.


Weekend media reports suggested that referees should – and will – be more austere in their application of the laws.

This, according to reports, is at the behest of World Rugby and the body’s ‘expert’ advisors.

Perhaps the real problem is that they are not applying the ‘law’, but rather their own ‘interpretations’ of the law.

In response to this World Rugby ‘directive’ I would like to look at and point out some of the fundamental principles of the game – the ethos of rugby.

1. It is still a game of physical contact where players (on their feet) compete for possession of the ball.
2. The game and its principles revolve around the ball and possession of the ball.
3. The game, in its most basic form, is a one-on-one contest.
4. It is fundamentally a contest between attack and defence.

(Continue reading below … )


So let’s look at what actually happens, or should happen, at the breakdown/tackle area:
1. The attacking player (ball carrier) decides to make contact. He has up to 20 options – with various degrees of risk – to choose from (* see below for some of those options). Yet, he chooses the low-risk option … contact. You have to ask: ‘Why should he be given the advantage of placing the ball?’ It is incomprehensible!
2. The defender has just one goal: to regain possession. If he is successful in tackling the ball dead, it is unplayable and a scrum should be awarded… his ball. The defender can play again. The execution was 100 percent and he should not be instructed to leave the ball.
3. If he does not execute a 100 percent tackle by not controlling the ball, he must hold onto the ball-carrier until the latter is on the ground and if not, the attacking player can continue to play.

Tackle law

4. It is the attacking player’s responsibility to ensure he keeps the ball alive and playable for his team immediately.
5. The attacking player on the ground must play immediately and cannot continue to influence the game by holding it out under one hand or two hands, placing it under his knee or making use of the infamous ‘squeeze ball’.


6. The first player at the breakdown/tackle should be able to pick up the ball and play on. Two players at the same time – one from either team, coming through the proverbial gate – on their feet should also be allowed to compete for the ball. That now becomes a ruck and the winner thereof is the best pusher and no one off their feet is allowed to play. They must all role away from the ball, attackers and defenders alike.

Tackle law
7. A ruck consists (or should consist) only of players on their feet. It should be a contest of players on their feet pushing against each other. Should that contest end and the ball becomes unplayable, the team to go forward should be rewarded with a scrum feed.
8. No player who gets involved in the contact (breakdown) area should be allowed to go to ground.
9. There should be no ‘animal-like’ actions, with players crawling on their hands and knees, hands and feet, or rolling along the ground several times. No hands should be allowed in the ruck or tackle area.
10. No player on the ground should be allowed to hold the ball, with his hand(s). They may pass it from the ground if it is executed immediately or unless it was while he was in the process of being tackled.

Tackle law

* Just to get back to the ball carrier’s options above: He can pass left or right, he can kick left or right, he can grubber left or right, he can dummy left or right, he can kick long or chip-kick, etc.

If referees just apply the laws, as they are written in the law book, and you link them to the card system that I wrote about in my previous column, there should be many more tries.

The game will become a lot more dynamic and play will be more continuous and engaging.

Referees should dismiss those repeat offenders.

If they don’t want to play within the spirit and ethos of the game, then they don’t belong on the field.

By Dawie Snyman

Also read …

The TRUE value of ‘experience’
Lack of ‘ethics’ exposed

Ruck law

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