New laws for Super 14 will take some getting used to

2007-12-15 00:00

SANZAR in the last week came up with a document to simplify the new experimental law changes that are going to be used in the Super 14 in 2008. The top coaches, referees and administrators met in Sydney a fortnight ago and hopefully it will eradicate the different interpretations that seem to have been making the rounds in the past couple of months.

One of the areas specified is that of the tackle or post-tackle scenario. Here the referees were asked to be strict on the defending player rolling away from the tackle. He will no longer be allowed to take up the fetal position and slow the ball down. This has and always will remain a problem area in the game and it will be interesting to see if the coaches and players will comply. If for some reason the player is stuck or trapped under an opposing player, he must still show intent to get out of the way.

The scrumhalf has been given a bit of extra protection by the lawmakers — you are not allowed to drag the scrumhalf into the ruck or maul, even if he has his hands on the ball or is digging it out.

The most controversial statement was made this week since there will now be an offside line running across the field of play as a tackle is being made. That will mean retiring players can only be put on-side when they retire to the on-side line or a fellow team-mate makes another tackle. In the past we often heard the referee shout: “No offsides! It’s only a tackle.” Well that is a thing of the past. The arriving players must still enter through the gate at the tackle, which now makes more sense with the inception of this law. The penalty for this infringement will remain a penalty. This will be an extremely difficult law to apply and I can see a lot of controversy arising in the Super 14 this year.

Then, to add a little extra spice, all other infringements at the tackle will now be free-kicks. The only penalty will be awarded if the referee deems the infringement at the tackle as deliberate and acts against the player under the foul play law and sends him off for 10 minutes. The law change is meant to take the subjective nature of refereeing out of the equation, but in my opinion it may force the referee to opt out of making a tough call on cynical infringements at the tackle to start off with.

The other area of major change is that of the scrum. We still have the ridiculous four-step engagement procedure, which I firmly believe was the cause of most of the collapsed scrums through the World Cup. That aside, the defending and attacking teams now have to form up five metres away from the hindmost foot of the scrum. If the attacking team closes down the five metres in a movement as the ball emerges from the scrum, then it applies to the defending side as well. This will, in my opinion, have a major influence on the game as it will allow for some creative rugby from first-phase possession.

The other influential change is that of the kick from the 22 metre, where in the past you could not gain ground when you carried the ball into the 22 metre area and kicked it out on the full. Today, we see that this law has been expanded to the extent that if a set piece like a scrum or maul is outside the 22 metre area and the ball is played back into the area and kicked out on the full, no ground can be gained. If you take a quick throw-in from outside the 22 metre area to inside the 22 m no ground can be gained either. This is going to cause more confusion than ever and I think it will take time getting used to, by players and referees, let alone us as spectators.

The other change that we will notice in the Super 14 is aimed at the referee signals. The referee will now indicate a scrum advantage by raising his arm horizontally to the field of play and will indicate a penalty advantage by raising his arm at a 45 degree angle and making a verbal call: “penalty advantage!”

To the public out there, just be aware that these experimental laws are only for the Super 14 and not for the Six Nations in the New Year. Please spare a thought for the poor referee that has to referee a Six Nations Test match the one week and a Super 14 game the following week. Crazy but true!

On a different note, I was informed last week that local international referee Craig Joubert’s mom, Lyn, took ill last month and I am sure I speak on behalf of all Weekend Witness readers in wishing her a speedy recovery.

•Your views to refscorner@mweb.co.za

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test and Super rugby referee and lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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