Chiefs coach Ian Foster has been remarkably restrained about the experimental law that killed off his side’s comeback against the Stormers last Friday.
Steve Deane writes in the NZ Herald that Foster refused to blame referee Matt Goddard’s decision to award a crucial second half penalty try against his team as the reason for their defeat. After all, Goddard got his ruling correct.
But the wider implications for rugby should not be overlooked. Cover defence – that noble, often match-winning art – has effectively been outlawed.
Perhaps the most worrying thing is that last Friday’s penalty try will likely be the tip of the iceberg. Smart coaches will surely instruct their players to ruthlessly exploit the new law.
More penalty tries are almost certainly coming to a stadium near you.
“I have been saying from the start that it was going to be the rule change that had the most significant impact,” Foster said. “Once people make line breaks, if they are able to get their hands free once they have gone to ground, it is very, very hard to defend.”
More like impossible. In simple terms, the law change means that any defender behind the play when a grounded player makes an offload is offside. If the tackler is the last line of defence, all of his teammates will be offside. The defenders can then either let an attacker who receives the offload run away and score or infringe. If they infringe close to the line, a penalty try will almost certainly result.
“In that situation when someone is going for a corner, gets tackled and pops it, it is near impossible to stop them,” Foster said.
That is precisely what Lelia Masaga discovered when he tackled Schalk Burger last Friday.
“His cover tackle was brilliant – under the old rules,” Foster said. “We have got no issues with the decision, it is the new law. But, quite frankly, it does seem a little bit bizarre. I guess I am not a lawmaker – I am not that smart – but we have just got to rely on them to do the best thing for the game.
“Whether it stays after this championship, time will tell.”
As well as penalising what used to be brilliant cover defence, the new law was also proving difficult to apply consistently, Foster said.
“It is very obvious when the linebreak is out in the open but it is very hard to referee when you get in behind teams around the fringes and free the ball up.
“That is the area where we have been frustrated, it is so difficult for refs to see that offload in close in a lot of traffic. The same law applies whether you are out in the open or one metre behind the ruck.”
Like its fellow ELVs, the new offside law was designed to speed up the game. Whether it achieves that aim is a moot point. Its side-effect has been to destroy a fundamental part of the game.
Masaga’s remarkable tackle was the sort that used to turn matches. All it achieved on Friday was to make Peter Grant’s conversion a certainty.
It’s one thing for a Chiefs game to turn on a technicality, it will be quite another if test matches are decided the same way.Tweet