SA has applied for permission to immediately implement new ‘experimental’ rugby laws

2008-01-05 00:00

South Africa has made application to the International Rugby Board for permission to introduce immediately the Experimental Law Variations applicable in the Super 14 to all rugby in this country.

The experimental laws would include all rugby, including that played at club and school level.

The general manager of SA refereeing, André Watson, says the reasoning is simple: “It makes no sense to play one set of laws that will be seen on TV every weekend and a different set at the same time in the Vodacom Cup and other competitions.”

The Experimental Law Variations to be applied are far-reaching and will have a major impact on the game.

The Breakdown (tackle/post tackle): Here a hard approach should be taken on tackler rolling away and must be first on the referee’s “checklist”.

“Rolling away” has been defined by the IRB and now reads — towards the sideline and if possible not interfering with the attacking team’s clean-out. If player is caught up in the mangle of bodies, he must show clear intention to “open up” such that he is lying flat to the ground. The “foetal” position will now be a big no-no and will be easy for the referee to identify and penalise.

During a tackle/ruck, while there is a contest for the ball, attackers and defenders must enter through the gate, which is at the hindmost foot on each side and is a metre wide.

If the ball is being dug out (after being won), the scrumhalf cannot be touched until the ball is clearly out of the breakdown. The benefit of any doubt should go to the scrumhalf which, one hopes, will see the end of the cynical infringements at the breakdown.

At the contest (breakdown), where a potential steal is apparent, an upward action of lifting should be seen performed by a player rather than a player just being in a position to lift. This is Wallaby flank George Smith’s famous bluff for a penalty. He must now be seen ripping the ball from the ball carrier.

Once a tackle is made, the off-side line stems right across the field. Retiring players can only be put on-side once the player in possession runs five metres or kicks the ball. Passing the ball does not put the player onside. Once the retiring player has returned to the offside line, he can rejoin play. Once another tackle is made by an on-side player there is a new off-side line. This is by far the most challenging aspect of the new laws to apply for a referee. It will require quick thinking on the field and will take some getting used to from a spectator’s point of view.

Let’s take a brief look at what in my opinion will become most controversial in the application of this law. The Springboks are playing Australia and François Steyn breaks clean through and has only Chris Latham to beat. The whole Australia backline is chasing Steyn, who gets tackled by Latham. As he falls to ground he passes the ball to Bryan Habana on his outside who now, no longer, can be tackled by any retreating Wallaby until he has run five metres or the Australians have run back far enough to be deemed on-side from the original tackle on Steyn. This is a radical change of how we played the game and will be a nightmare to officiate.

At the Scrum : Both attacking and defending teams are to start five metres behind scrum. The cue for the defending team is when attackers move inside the five metres or the ball has emerged from the scrum. The scrumhalf has to stay within a metre of the scrum as he follows the ball or else he will be required to retire to the five metre offside line. Another kind gesture, the IRB now defines the wheel of the scrum to the extent that both front rows should be beyond 90 degrees and should not be determined by the back row players. So if the one team remains straight and the other tries to wheel and breaks away from each other the scrum feed remains with the team who were first awardedthe scrum.

The new 22m law : Basically you have to resume play after a stoppage, or gain possession of the ball, within the 22-metre area to gain ground when kicking the ball out on the full. This will take some getting used to by the players and you can expect a few frustrating moments at the start of the season.

The Lineout: Hookers must now stand two metres from the lineout and they are now not allowed to lift the front jumper.

The new laws will bring teething problems and they must be open for discussion on a regular basis. My real concern is that we are applying these ELV in a top professional competition like the Super 14. Players and referees are entering unchartered waters without the opportunity to experiment and refine their approach.

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test referee and lives in Pietermaritzburg. Your views to refscorner@mweb.co.za

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