Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Closing out

Various pundits, including John Inverdale in the Telegraph, are getting their knickers in a twist about the increasingly popular tactic of teams winding the clock down by constructing a succession of drives, rucks and mauls round the fringes that are impossible to defend unless an infringement is committed. Wales shut England out at Twickenham using this method and did so again in the closing minutes against Ireland at Dublin. England did exactly the same to France in Paris (and even managed to cross for a late try in the process) and Scotland closed out the dire game at Murrayfield in the same fashion.

Inverdale argues that, logically, it would technically be possible for a team to take the lead in the first minute of the match and then play this possession game for the remaining 79 minutes. Technically possible, maybe, but hardly physically possible - it looks like bloody hard work for a start - and in all honestly I can't see what all the fuss is about. Teams often used to protect a lead by wellying the ball as far as possible down the field and make the opposition attack from deep late in the game, trusting in their defence to close the game out - the fact that teams now instead trust in their own ability to retain possession isn't such a bad thing.

It's no different from a soccer team playing 'keep-ball' late in the game to protect a lead - there's absolutely no obligation on a team to offer up opportunities to win the game to the opposition.

If we're not careful, whinges like these will lead to referees deciding to spot invisible offences to give the defending side one last chance or, heaven forbid, the IRB deciding to introduce another pointless law to "improve" the game (what price the "six tackle" rule?).

Come on Invers, get a grip!


Nursedude said...

It may not make for great spectacle, but if you have good forwards, the lead and a minute or so left in the game, I don't think it's bad strategy to play keep away in this fashion. Nobody is going to go to the extreme( I hope) of playing a whole half like that, but I see nothing wrong with closing out the last minute or two of a match like this.

Total Flanker said...

Exactly. Realistically no team can play like that for more than a few minutes as it takes a huge toll phyically and mentally.

By saying "we must do something about this" effectively what those who complain are saying is that "you must not play in this way because it doesn't look attractive" - which is also at the heart of my unease about the (you guessed it aready) ELVs. Rather than, as intended, a misguided attempt to simplify the laws for referees and spectators, the ELVs have been seized upon by certain parties as a way of ensuring that the game is played in one way and one way only, which in effect will mean that the rich variety of styles currently on display will be stripped away and will, in my humble opinion, ruin the game that we know and love.

David said...

Its plain to see that Inverdale is a back (and works for the broadcast media)
Those that have played the game as forwards recognise, and get great enjoyment from watching the technically skillful arts of maulling and ruck-recycling. Its a lot harder to do than pass/catch/run which challanges so many backs!