The Vatican has drawn up a new list of seven deadly sins. The breakdown should be included in that catalogue. The collision zone remains a blight on the game, the canker of the code, the most ambiguous part in the complex set of rugby’s rules.
Wynne Gray writes in the NZ Herald that the IRB and their minions trumpeted the benefits of the experimental law variations (ELVs).
Separating the backlines and punishing sides for taking the ball back into their 22 are sensible amendments and ones which qualify for the glossy promotional brochures about making rugby easier to understand.
But the breakdown, the tackled ball area? No change there.
It is a mess, a flurry of bodies, players off their feet, playing the ball on the ground, attacking the pileup from all angles, cleaning out rivals, fringing and edging ahead of the offside line.
Watching live Super 14 matches, you need infra-red vision to catch the detail let alone understand it while couch vision gives you the luxury of close up views and equal dollops of confusion about officials’ verdicts.
“I still don’t know what is going on,” was the frank assessment from Force captain Nathan Sharpe when questioned about his comprehension of the breakdown.
Rugby is faster and has longer passages of play but it can be debated whether it is more entertaining.
So much of the play looks a duplicate of the previous move, most matches disappear in a repetitive blur of homogeneity, there is not a great deal to distinguish one game or one team from another.
The game is played at a great pace and is too fast for one referee to control effectively or interpret consistently, especially at the breakdowns. By the time the referee arrives, the damage has been done, generally by the tackler who has slowed play down enough for a teammate to further interfere.
Referees are not getting enough help from their colleagues who have had their status raised from touch judges to assistant referees but appear reluctant to help with rulings. Infringements or stoppages at scrums and breakdowns are being punished with free kicks but that is a cop out.
Players have long twigged that referees are reluctant to punish them further.
Defending teams are cynically giving up free kicks knowing they are not going to concede full penalties for professional fouls.
Attacking sides are struggling to sustain driving forward play in attacking zones – it is risky to opt for a forward presence because holdups mean a free kick to the defending team.
The discount free kick instead of full penalties for foul play, offside and persistent infringements, favours defenders and gives the impression referees are in control when many appear to be guessing and using the free kick as an escape mechanism.
Performances from referees in Hamilton and Canberra on Friday seemed to emphasise that impression. Willie Roos could not fathom the breakdowns at all but happily blew his whistle in the sort of performance which would make Schalk Burger’s blood boil faster than usual.
Meanwhile, Matt Goddard also offered confusing instructions to players at Waikato Stadium and then ruled differently. The free kick was his friend while he also gave the shoulders-and-hips spiel at scrums which earned an exasperated Eddie Jones a $10,000 fine last season.
At the time Goddard said the laws were too elaborate but he forecast beneficial alterations.
“Rugby does have a problem with law complexities which hopefully can be rectified in the near future with law changes aimed at taking the referee out of the equation,” he said.
That is one thing the ELVs have not managed.Tweet