15 July 2022

Are the laws of rugby killing the sport?

| Tim Gavel
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Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones after England’s win against the Wallabies: when the winning coach complains about the refs, there’s a problem. Photo: Screenshot.

Walking away from Lang Park after the second rugby test between the Wallabies and England on Saturday night, the conversations among many of the 48,000 fans could be heard echoing a similar theme.

Talk wasn’t so much about the result of the game, which saw England defeat Australia 25 to 17, nor the fact that the series was now locked at one game all in the best-of-three series. Nor were conversations about the game ending the Wallabies’ 10-match winning streak at Lang Park.

Rather, the discussions focused entirely on the interpretation of the laws of the game by the match officials.

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Two yellow cards were handed out on the referee’s interpretation of a ‘deliberate’ knockdown. For most watching the game it was obvious in both instances that Izaia Perese and Marcus Smith were attempting intercepts.

There was another instance during the game when England lock Jonny Hill also knocked the ball down while the Wallabies were on the attack, but referee Andrew Brace deemed that a penalty was sufficient, meaning the action was an attempted intercept rather than a deliberate knockdown.

And what about the elbow to the throat of Wallabies half back Nic White? According to the referee, a penalty was sufficient.

Nic White copped one in the neck. (Apparently, a deliberate knockdown is a more serious offence.) Photo: File.

Michael Hooper was also penalised for running into one of his own players when no England player was impeded.

Even Eddie Jones had a crack at the interpretation of the laws on Saturday night, and his team won!

On average there are 180 breakdowns in a Super Rugby game. At times, it would appear as though there is potentially a penalty at every ruck or maul.

The uncertainty is driving people away from the game. And this lack of clarity isn’t confined to test rugby.

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Earlier in the season, Brumbies fullback Tom Banks was red carded for a tackle on Western Force winger Toni Pulu. Banks escaped suspension, creating doubts over whether the red card was warranted in the first place.

Decision-making at the highest level is creating angst at the community and club levels in Canberra, and I’m confident it’s the same elsewhere, with players frustrated by interpretations of the laws.

The problem is there are so many laws. It’s not the fault of the referees as they are simply administering laws set by others as they see it.

But if any of the referees had been leaving Lang Park last Saturday night with the throng of frustrated supporters, they would certainly have been provided with plenty of free advice.

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Player performance has evolved beyond the core nature of the game. Intensified speed and power in every position has seen the unchanging confines of the game overwhelmed. Where once it coped with able amateurs of differing body types the fundamental nature of the game and static size of the field just can’t accommodate thirty professionals performing at peak speed and power. The game had fixed parameters with scrums and lineouts demanding the stocky, the lithe , the tall and the small. While each body shape had particular game advantages there were tradeoffs as far as speed and power were concerned. This created mismatches and presented opportunities for innovative individual and team play. As different rule changes and specialised training have morphed body shapes creating the Uber Rugby player of today the rules have had to morph regularly to kerb coaching tactics maximising that modern player strength and skill to keep the game somewhat resembling it’s fundamental nature. That’s what makes club rugby more watchable than the top level games…..the mismatches of speed and power create opportunities within a game played at something like it’s core tempo.

I love my rugby but turned off the TV after the yellow card for a deliberate knockdown. Give me club rugby on a Saturday afternoon where we accept (LOL) that referees make mistakes. Match officials have crucified both super and international rugby to make the spectacle their own. Give the match officials their own game so they can pontificate to their heart’s content without ruining the gamer they play in heaven.

Vinson1Bernie3:06 pm 15 Jul 22

One game and people overreact. The deliberate knock down originated after many instances of deliberate knockdowns in the UK as defending teams were short-handed (esp in Sevens Rugby) after many phase play. Players are coached to go to the ball with both hands and in any case 10 mins in the bin is hardly the end of the world. Its like me saying Wednesday nights concussion derby is typical of RL. BTW the minimal fine they fined the 2 NRL fighting players I suggest ” for bringing the game into disrepute?” suggests the change to the suspension laws (fines rather than suspensions and zero weeks suspension) was deliberate “to bring back the biff” for better ratings in in non-RL states as the Nine newspapers keep pushing for an All Star game (including NZ, UK players, more Storm players) to make it a more viable TV product.

@Vision1Bernie
Clearly you didn’t watch the game last Saturday night – or you don’t understand the meaning of the term “deliberate”.
The sin binning of Izaia Perese for a DELIBERATE knock on

Cont’d when he was clearly trying to intercept the pass (as evidenced by his disappointment by not completing the interception) was a farce. It shouldn’t have even been a penalty.
Your assertion that his action goes against standard coaching principles belies the reality that professional players sometimes pull off “miracle”, sometimes game changing plays.
I’m not sure why you saw the need to bring league into the conversation, but if you think there was some semblance of a similarity with Saturday’s TMO howler, then perhaps you should stick to watching league.

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