Saturday, 5 April 2008

Cover tackle outlawed!

Regular readers of this blog (both of you!) will know that I never, ever bang on about my opposition to the Experimental Variation Laws (ELVs) currently being trialled in the Super 14. Well, hardly ever.

It has come to my attention, however, that not only do the ELVs ruin the art of forward play and create a cheat's charter, they also appear (inadvertently I suspect) to make the cover tackle illegal!

This has come to light following a Super 14 mach between the Stormers and the Chiefs (what is it with these Super 14 franchise names? Would it kill them to give us a clue as to where they are based?) when a fantastic cover tackle by Lelia Masaga of the Chiefs (from somewhere in New Zealand) on Schalk Burger resulted in a penalty try being awarded to the Stormers (from somewhere in South Africa) because Masaga was behind play when the ball was offloaded to Burger from a tackle. The tackle can be seen below (last try in the highlights sequence):

Because the new law creates an offside line at the tackle rather than when a ruck or maul forms, any defender behind the play when a grounded player makes an offload is now offside. If the tackler happens to be the last line of defence, all of his teammates will be offside. Those defenders can then either let an attacker who receives the offload run away and score or infringe and, if they infringe close to the line, a penalty try will almost certainly result.

So what looked like a brilliant piece of defending by Masaga in fact turned out to be illegal and cost his team a seven-pointer.

Surely this cannot be what the lawmakers intended? Super 14 rugby is often subject to unjust northern hemisphere jibes that it is a form of glorified basketball - but ultimately if this law is applied to the letter then that is exactly what rugby will become - a game in which each side takes turns to score and where a try is almost guaranteed once a line break is made - something so far removed from rugby as we currently know it as to make it unrecognisable.

I can only hope that the powers that be are looking at the ELVs very much as the name intends - as an "experiment" - and, where such an experiment is shown clearly to produce a result that is neither intended nor desirable, that the law in question will be abandoned with indecent haste.


Richard said...

The purpose of the law is to put an end to the deliberate tactic of NOT trying to get back onside, but running alongside the trailing player, then tackling him or intercepting the pass to him.

It is tough when the tackler is the last man, but when you successfully pass out of the last tackle, you deserve a try!

Total Flanker said...

Nay, nay and thrice nay, Richard.

If, as you say, the law is intended to put an end to the deliberate tactic of not trying to get back onside then I'm afraid it's just an example of unnecessary meddling by the IRB as the game as it stands is hardly blighted by such a tactic.

Instead the effect of the law is that it makes tackling when chasing back virtually impossible and outlaws great cover defence.

And to say that passing out of a tackle in itself deserves a try is just bizarre - the great thing about rugby is that tries need to be earned. I'm all for playing open and entertaining rugby but introducing laws which make try scoring easier is not the answer.

Richard said...

Not just passing out of a tackle, passing out of the last tackle, having done enough to get to the last tackle!

I'm noticing the 'trailing defenders' more often in the last few years in top-level games, HC and Super-14.

What about the 5m back from Rucks, SCrums etc? Surely a good idea?

Total Flanker said...

I'm not against all of the ELVs per se but don't believe they've been properly thought through. The 5m offside line at scrums on the face of it looks positive - but a side effect may well turn out to be that it encourages teams to just pick big strong centres (even more so than they do now) as inevitably the collisions will be even more extreme given the extra distance in which attackers can build up a head of steam.

My basic position is that the game simply ain't broke - and I'm against changes that fundamentally alter the nature of the game, which I'm convinced many of the ELVs do.

Amen ;)

Matt @ Green and Gold Rugby said...

The game is broke.

When kicking the ball away is the high percentage option, then something ain't right - witness the big games in the RWC and everyone but the Welsh in the 6 nations.

My evaluation of the S14 ELVs is that they're doing OK, it's the variable refs interpretations that cause the problems.

Keep "the sky's falling in" posts coming though.

Total Flanker said...

Which of the ELVs exactly will prevent a team from kicking deep?

Part of the reason this happened during the RWC is that refs were instructed to be very strict in penalising "holding on" at the tackle, meaning that players were terrified of being caught in possession.

The same instruction would have the same result under the ELVs, no?

I manintain that altering the fundamental nature of the game just to suit a few antipodean TV executives would be a grave error.

Matt @ Green and Gold Rugby said...

"The same instruction would have the same result under the ELVs, no?"

Actually, no. What you rightly described under the crusty old laws probably would have ended up in 3 points from a full penalty in the kick recipients own half. As such certain teams could hind behind their kickers.

In the ELVs it would be a free kick - a chance to either run it or show your teams scrum superiority, with a 5m gap to give your backs more of a chance.

All makes sense to me - nothing's stopping you tactically kicking under the ELVs, but there's a helluva lot less incentive to do it as your only real game plan.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the video I wonder if the referee made a mistake, not withstanding the new rules.

The tackle was made over the offside line so the takling player, while coming from an offside position was actually onside when the tackle was made.


Karl aka Stomper

Total Flanker said...

Karl - you might be right, otherwise he'd effectively be out of the game...

Matt - "In the ELVs it would be a free kick - a chance to either run it or show your teams scrum superiority, with a 5m gap to give your backs more of a chance."

...sounds like a great motivation to kick it deep!