It’s time to end the Haka

We have been treated to a number of Hakas over the last few weeks and with the test series between the Lions and the All Blacks just starting, there are plenty more to come.

But is the Haka appropriate for modern, professional elite sport or is it an historic sporting anachronism that should be consigned to the rugby dustbin?

 

Was the Haka always like this?

Looking back in the Youtube archives we find this little gem, showing Sid Going leading the All Blacks in the 1973 fixture against the Barbarians. Note that the Barbarians aren’t forced to face the Haka and the rather leisurely pace and tempo of the performance.

Fast forward a few decades and we see a completely different approach.

 

The fairly sedate Haka of the 1970s has been replaced by an overtly confrontational version, with South Africa being forced to stand opposite and accept the “challenge”. Gone are the friendly faces and slightly comical movements of the earlier Haka; to be replaced by bulging eyes, puffing cheeks, lolling tongues, aggressive body language and the controversial throat slitting gesture.

But it’s 2017 and this isn’t the old amateur days of friendly rugby, this is now a professional game with people’s livelihoods and careers depending on results.

World Rugby should now tell New Zealand to drop the Haka – there are 3 strong reasons why.

 

It’s our history and culture

“The All Blacks have been performing the Haka for well over 100 years now”, says Dan Carter in some promotion fluff for their corporate sponsors AIG.  He may technically be right but there are two aspects to this that need to be considered.

The first – highlighted in the clips above, is that the nature of the Haka has changed considerably as the decades have progressed. Today’s Haka bear’s no resemblance at all to the Haka of the pre-1980s.

Does this mean that the older versions of the Haka were not true to the history and culture of the Maori challenge and that the more recent versions are a more accurate portrayal of the Maori’s cultural heritage?

A more cynical view would be that the All Blacks now use the Haka as a tool to both intimidate the opposition and to provide inspiration and strength for themselves.

What started off as a low key homage to Maori culture has now become a well choreographed show, more akin to Broadway than Rotoroa.  The All Blacks have even written their own Haka – Kapa O Pango.

The second aspect to note is that the historical use of the Haka (in the rugby context), is not as clear cut as you’d think.

It may have been first used by the New Zealand “Natives” team in 1888, but it was used exclusively for overseas fixtures until 1986.

This means from the turn of the 20th century to the end of the 1970s the Haka would have been performed about 100 times in test matches – there was a rarity value and understandable interest from oversees audiences to witness it. Compare this to the average of 12-15 games that New Zealand play in a calendar year nowadays and we start to understand why interest has reached saturation point for many.

It was Buck Shelford who redefined the All Black’s Haka as the aggressive “war dance” we see today and also introduced the Haka to New Zealand’s home fixtures.

 

A cultural icon or commercial vehicle?

We are told that the Haka has special cultural resonance with New Zealand’s rugby team and must therefore be treated with respect. Any slight (perceived or real) against the Haka is criticised by commentators in New Zealand and often by the sport’s governing body, World Rugby.

We know that World Rugby’s tournament rules dictate that the opposition have to face the Haka and must retain a certain distance. They have been happy to levy fines against teams that have breached these protocols.

On one hand opposition teams must respect the cultural heritage but on the other, the Haka is now used as a commercial tool for the All Blacks. There are legitimate questions to ask around the devaluation of the cultural heritage given the commercial exploitation by a number of large corporate sponsors.

This issue was covered in more detail by The East Terrace in this article, which highlighted a number of advertising campaigns and promotional campaigns which exploited the sacred Haka.

Here is an example. A few minutes extolling the history and symbolism of the Maori culture and the Haka, drawing on the links with the All Blacks……all for a video by Beats by Dre.

 

If the Haka can be used to sell life insurance policies, savings accounts or headphones for commercial gain, why are France or Ireland forced to stand and accept the Haka on the rugby field?

 

Competitive advantage?

Can anyone image a football world cup final where Argentina are forced to stand in front of Brazil (don’t encroach within 10 metres though!), as they perform a national dance? Or England being made to watch a traditional Bavarian cultural performance in a fixture against Germany, while being made to respectfully stand and watch?

It wouldn’t happen, so why do we still have it in rugby?

Part of the reason is rugby is still anchored in the old amateur days. Players had day jobs, so a defeat wasn’t great but no livelihoods were at stake; today’s players, coaches and support teams are reliant on the income from rugby to support their families.

The other reason is the commercial opportunities for both the All Blacks and World Rugby that come from the Haka.

Does the Haka give a material advantage to the All Blacks? We can never prove this assertion but if you look at the quotes from ex-players, you get a sense of the importance placed on it’s meaning and symbolism. Here is a quote from Ma’a Nonu after the Welsh standoff in 2009:

“What the Welsh did wound us up… it was really hard (to accept),”

Aaron Cruden talks in the AIG promotional video about what the Haka means to him:

“Spiritually, gaining strength from the guys beside us….getting that positive energy going”.

Why wouldn’t an All Black gain an advantage from it? The mere fact the opposition is forced to stand and face the Haka, immediately confers a power inbalance. It says the All Blacks are dictating the order of these proceedings and you (the opposition) are powerless to do anything.

The way the All Blacks choose the positioning of players in the formation (more experienced at the front) and the shape of the formation (the triangle suggests something aiming at the opposition) is not by chance. They fully understand the psychological impact on the opposition.

In professional sport, both teams should be given a level playing field on which to perform. Allowing one team to perform a Haka just before kick off without the right of response of the opposition, immediately skews this playing field and gives one team an advantage.

 

Time to end the Haka?

These are the reasons why the Haka should be removed from the official pre-match programme.

There are legitimate claims why the Haka may be performed and the economic benefits accruing from it shouldn’t be overlooked in the world of competing professional sports. We would therefore not propose scrubbing the Haka completely but the following rules should be introduced:

  • The opposition team should be given the opportunity to decide whether the All Blacks can perform the Haka immediately prior to kick off. Some teams may be happy to face it, while others (Pacific Island teams) will also want to perform their own versions.
  • If the opposition team declines, the All Blacks are welcome to perform the Haka on the pitch in the lead up to kick off, but not less than 20 minutes before kick off.

This second point will mean that the cultural element can be satisfied and those supporters that want to see it, can do so, but it removes the requirement for the opposition to be present and face it.

This compromise should keep New Zealand happy while also recognising that rugby is now a professional game and needs to act as such.

 

To see the best and worst responses to the Haka read this article.

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5 tactics the Lions should use to beat New Zealand

We now know the test squad that the British and Irish Lions will take to Eden Park this Saturday for the 1st test against New Zealand. There are some surprises there – particularly in the back 3, but the key to the game will be in the forwards.

On the tour so far, the Lions first string pack has performed well and they hold the key to achieving success this weekend. By contrast, the backs have struggled to provide much impetus off set play but have shown that they can cut free when they play a looser, more spontaneous game.

Don’t expect the Lions to turn the test series in to an open game of rugby. Gatland will stick to what he knows well, which is a highly structured game built around kicking, putting pressure on the opposition and accumulating points through penalties.

Here are the 5 key areas that the Lions should look to exploit if they want to win.

 

(1) Attacking mauls

The Lions forwards coach Steve Borthwick knows how to coach an effective attacking maul, and he hasn’t disappointed on this tour.

As an example, if we look at the Chiefs’ game (see clip below) it’s Justin Tipuric who takes the lineout, with Iain Henderson stepping in front of him to provide protection – illegal, but usually ignored by referees. As the ball is transferred to the back, the Lions pack drive through the right hand side of the right, where Henderson and Haskell have positioned themselves.

The Chiefs illegally bring down the maul and a penalty try is awarded.

This time it’s the Blues on the receiving end of the Lions forward power.  Itoje takes the catch from an Owens’ throw and after readjusting the maul, it is Stander who crosses the line.

In every game, the attacking maul has been a strong weapon. Expect to see a lot of it on Saturday, particularly if the weather is wet, as is being forecast.

 

Kick and press

The scrum half or outside half, kick and press is a favourite of Gatland’s. The target used to be to try and compete in the air and win the ball back, but there is a sense that with the defending player having the “rights” in the air, it is better to wait for the catcher to land and then then tackle him.

We saw the consequences of mistimed tackles in the air with Liam Williams earlier in the tour, when he was shown a yellow card.

Conor Murray has been chosen for his game management and primarily his ability to execute perfectly the box kick.  The example below is from the Maori game where Murray’s inch perfect kick results in a penalty from which Halfpenny kicks 3 points.

Interestingly, the Maori dropping this ball is Rieko Ioane, who has been chosen in the All Blacks team for Saturday. Ioane, at just 20, is a superb talent with the ball but there are still question marks over his ability to handle the more structured kicking game that the Lions will try and play.

Expect a barrage of kicks on the New Zealand wingers and a fast pressing Lions line to try and turn the ball over, win the penalty or force the All Blacks to kick back.

 

Scrum

Not that long ago Mako Vunipola was known as a great carrier but an appalling scrummager – which is a pretty important skill for a test level prop! His improvement has been stark to the point that a scrum with Mako at loose head is a potentially dominant weapon against the All Blacks.

In the Maori game, the test front row (Mako, George and Furlong) were dominant with referee Peyper rewarding them with a penalty try:

The good news for the Lions is that Jaco Peyper is the referee for the first test!

This clip shows that not only is he willing to penalise the weaker scrum, he is also happy to award a penalty try, which is vitally important against All Black teams who can be very cynical when defending their try line.

Later in the game Peyper was again comfortable to penalise the Maori scrum, this time for wheeling.

Not only does the Lions scrum have the potential to provide a stable platform for the half backs, it could be a potent weapon.

 

Midfield blitz defence and attack the breakdown

One noticeable aspect of the Lions – Crusaders game was the speed and strength of the Lions’ midfield blitz defence. Super Rugby teams tend not to compete too much at the breakdown; being happy to give the ball away and reform the defensive line as a priority, rather than lose bodies in the breakdown.

In the  north the breakdown is a fierce area of competition and in turn the midfield defence tends to push quickly on the opposition, closing down their time on the ball. Both these aspects were evident in the Crusaders game, meaning the New Zealand team had poor quality ball to play with and little space when they did receive it.

The Lions were then able to convert this defensive pressure in to points and territory.

Te’o has been chosen for his ball carrying but also his defensive qualities, and alongside Farrell and Davies they have an important role in Gatland’s team.

If we look at the alignment of the Chiefs backs defence off first phase ball,  we see the centres are deeper than the players inside, meaning there isn’t a strong pressing line facing the Lions.

Chiefs defensive line

Contrast this with the Lions hard press against the Crusaders (below) with not only 10, 12 and 13 forming a flat line with very small spacing, but Murray also works across to take the ball carrier.

Cruseders defensive

Expect the All Blacks to use small diagonal kicks behind the Lions midfield to try and negate this rush defence.

Perhaps the best example of attacking the breakdown was England’s performance against New Zealand back in 2012. In that game, England’s intensity at each tackle and breakdown was quite outstanding and it was that pressure which finally caused New Zealand to crack.

They are a team that are at their best when they have time and space to run; cut that option out of their game and you stand a chance.

 

Forward carriers

The Lions have a number of very strong ball carriers who are crucial to the success of the team. We have seen how Eddie Jones has built his game plan around the forward breaking the line to make space for their pacey backs – the Lions need to use similar tactics if they are to get the best out of Daly, Watson and Williams.

The front row can all carry, Itoje is excellent, Sean O’Brien and Faletau can also make the hard yards; these are the crucial players who along with Te’o must get the Lions over the gain line.

In this clip against the Highlanders, it’s initially Iain Henderson who makes the hole against a well formed but passive defence, and Sam Warburton takes the ball for the secondary thrust.

This footage below, comes from the Ireland New Zealand game in 2016. Although Furlong doesn’t carry the ball too far towards the All Black line, it’s his ability to bump off the opposition that would provide a real lift to his team mates.

This is another area where the Lions have a distinct advantage. The bench will also be important here with the Lions opting for perhaps more athletic and mobile forwards to close down the space as bodies tire and the All Black attacks increase in intensity.

Sinckler, Owens and Itoje are also able to carry so expect the Lions’ forward barrage to continue for the full 80 minutes.

 

Can the Lions win?

The key to the game will be in the forwards battle. Do New Zealand have the strength there to negate the Lions set piece dominance and break down specialists? If they do then the Lions may have to look for a plan B, which we know Gatland coached teams are often missing.

The second consideration is can the Lions dictate the pace of the game to a speed they are comfortable playing week in and week out in the domestic leagues? If so, they stand a chance of snuffing out the All Blacks’ attacking runners. It’s expected that Sonny Bill will run in to contact and look for an offload, we know Smith is happy countering from deep – stopping them is another issue though.

 

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The best …..and worst responses to the Haka

If you’ve been following the Lions tour over the last few weeks you may feel as if you have reached Haka saturation point. Well, do not fear, with the test matches on their way we have a few more eye bulging, throat slitting performances still to come.

For a few decades there has been the feeling that the All Blacks gained a physiological advantage from the Haka, which was unfair on the opposition team, who have to stand there and accept it.

To counter this perceived advantage coaches, and players, have adopted various response strategies. Here are 9 of the best – and the worst.

 

Number 9 – Ireland u20 2009

Jerome Garces does his best to push the Irish youngsters back in to their own half, but there is no stopping the green wall as it heads towards the junior All Blacks.

 

Number 8 – Tonga 2003 

What better way to counter a challenge than by laying down your own. Tonga respond to the Haka with the Sipi Tau.

 

Number 7 – Munster 2008

Munster’s very own Haka in the mist of Thomond Park.

 

Number 6 – France 2007

This Rugby World Cup quarter final in Cardiff lives long in the memory for the fact that France won the game. What is often forgotten is the line of red, white and blue that faced the haka across the half way line.

“The Haka confirms France are well and truly up for the game,” Richie McCaw later wrote in his autobiography. Maybe facing up to the Haka does work?

 

Number 5 – Australia 1996

New Zealand’s Antipodean cousins can be little scamps when it comes to respecting the Haka. In the 1996 Tri Nations fixture in Wellington, the whole Australian team decided to stretch some hamstrings rather than accept the challenge of the Haka.

This wasn’t a great idea – Australia went on to lose 43-6. Ouch.

 

Number 4 – Richard Cockerill and England 1997

Cockers isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but he will certainly remain long in the memory for this response to the Haka, and his coming together with Norm Hewitt.

 

Number 3 –  Wales 2008

It’s 2008 at the Millennium Stadium and Jonathan Kaplan tries desperately to shift one team or the other to get the game starting. Wales – with their hands on hips and Adam Jones looking mildly bemused won’t budge, so finally it goes down to New Zealand to move on…..otherwise they’d still be there today.

 

Number 2 – David Campese

The shy and retiring Aussie wasn’t one for the limelight usually and on a number of occasions he shunned the Haka, preferring instead to do some stretches and warm ups under his own posts.

 

Number 1 – Ireland 1989

Willie Anderson starts the ball rolling with innovative responses to the Haka with a slow march towards the All Blacks line. It took Shelford by surprise but he loved the challenge.

 

And the worst……British and Irish Lions 2005

The 2005 Lions tour was a disaster. O’Driscoll’s symbolic picking up of some grass after the Haka was supposed to show cultural empathy but not only was the protocol wrong it set the wrong tone for the series.

It was an act that made the Lions look subservient; a team that would respond to whatever the All Blacks wanted them to do.  Showing a little respect is one thing, kow-towing to the opposition before a battle is another.

 

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How many players are needed for a Lions test series?

Nobody can accuse Warren Gatland of not doing his own thing. In the 2013 Lions series in Australia, he managed to incur the wrath of Ireland by dropping Brian O’Driscoll and then followed that up by starting 10 Welsh players in the decisive 3rd test.

This time he has ignored the mantra that the Lions is the best of Britain and Ireland by calling up 6 new squad players (4 from Wales), of which 4 could be classed as nothing like the next best in the position in the Home Nations – in some cases they aren’t even in the top 4 in their position in the home country.

This prompted the though – how many players are needed for a 3 match Lions test series? Could we see some of these players sitting on the bench come the final test?

The figures – summarised below in the graph, show that over the last 3 tours about 30-32 players were needed for the 3 tests. The 2001 tour seems to be an outlier based on this review, where Graham Henry kept a very consistent team for the series against Australia.

 

Capped Lions each year

The 2013 Australia tour saw 21 players capped in the first test with an additional 3 in the 2nd and 6 in he final game, when Gatland put his faith in the Welsh contingent.

The 2009 tour to South Africa involved some brutal rugby with a number of serious injuries leading to 5 extra players capped in both the 2nd and 3rd tests.

The changes made on the 2005 tour were arguably more an indication that Woodward got his selection wrong for the 1st test, and arguably the squad as a whole. 6 new caps were awarded for the 2nd test with the likes of Back, Hill, Corry and Grewcock making way from the starting team and O’Driscoll unavailable after a Mealamu and Umaga “accident” (according to Graham Henry).

The attrition rate hasn’t been too much of an issue on this tour to date, but with a midweek game against the Chiefs and the first test just 5 days away, things can quickly change.

If more bodies are required next week it will look odd to overlook last week’s squad additions to make a call back to the UK or Ireland for reinforcements. If the Lions win the test, people won’t question Gatland’s judgements, but if they suffer a heavy defeat these controversial decisions will be used against him.

 

 

Australia 2013

Test capped players

1st test – 21

2nd test – +3

3rd test – +6

Total number of players with test cap = 30.

Australia 2013 test cps

 

South Africa 2009

Test capped players

1st test – 20

2nd test – +5

3rd test – +5

Total number of players with test cap = 30

SA 2009 lions caps

 

New Zealand 2005

Test capped players

1st test – 21

2nd test – +6

3rd test – +5

Total number of players with test cap = 32

 

NZ 2005 caps.jpg

 

Australia 2001

Test capped players

1st test – 19

2nd test – +3

3rd test – +1

Total number of players with test cap = 23

 

Australia 2001 test caps

 

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Brexit – Implications on Rugby Player Movements

Brexit – remember that topic from the summer of 2016? Well, it’s back and this time it’s all for real.

Recently, the UK’s man in Brussels handed over a letter to Donald Tusk, so signalling the UK’s formal withdrawal from the EU.

Prior to the EU referendum last year, theblitzdefence looked at several of the key rugby related risks facing the UK (player movements, flights, safety, health, duty free, sterling strength).  It could be argued the currency risk has already materialised, as travel and expenses in a Euro dominated country will cost you more today than pre-Brexit, but the other issues are still to be decided as part of the official negotiations.

This article will recap what the implications are for player, coach and staff movements for UK based rugby teams.

How does regulations around player movements currently work?

The primary implication for rugby is related to the potential restrictions around player (and also coach, physio and other back room staff) movements.

This is a pretty complicated area, but to simplify matters we can identify several ways a rugby player can legally work as a professional rugby player in the UK:

 (1)    Have a UK passport (this could be gained through a birth place, spouse/long term partner or parent)

(2)    Grandparent route – a grandparent born in the UK gives a player a 5 year ancestry visa

(3)    Have an EU passport (or spouse/long term partner)

(4)    Kolpak player (see explanation below)

(5)    Work visa – these will be granted depending on the level that the player has played at, with the aim to attract the best talent in to roles that can’t be filled by EU nationals.

The first 3 are self-explanatory but the forth category – Kolpak, may need a bit of explaining.

Kolpak players are those with a work permit from countries that have an Association Agreement with the EU – which are the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP countries). These individuals must be treated the same as player from UK or EU and are therefore deemed to be “not  foreign”. A large number of Pacific Island and South Africans have played in the UK utilising this route.

The final category – where access is via a work visa,  includes those from outside the EU who are also non–Kolpak. These are termed “foreign” players and could include Americans, New Zealanders and Australians.

What will happen in the event of Brexit?

When the UK withdraws from the EU and is therefore no longer party to any freedom of movement requirements there are two main potential impacts on UK rugby teams:

  • Players with a non-UK EU passport will not have an automatic right to work in the UK
  • Kolpak players will not have an automatic right to work in the UK, as the UK will no longer be part of the Association Agreements with the ACP countries

An example of the first category of players affected by the change includes Exeter’s Italian international Michele Campagnaro who would not be able to wave his EU passport as he entered Heathrow and automatically be able to ply his trade in the south west.

The same would be true of French players who may prefer the wine and weather on the UK side of the English Channel (not that there are many now but the days of Raphael Ibanez and Phillipe Sella are not that long ago!). Maxime Mermoz at Leicester would fall in to this category.

In reality though we are not talking about huge numbers of players who would be impacted by this change but a number of players (typically Argentinians) use an EU passport as a way to play for a UK team.

Taking this development on a step, it would be interesting to see if the EU nations would reciprocate the UK’s removal of the freedom of movement and apply it to UK citizens. This would mean that UK passport holders would not automatically have the right to right to work in EU countries. Players who fall in to this camp could include Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon) and Toby Flood (Toulouse).

The second category of players – those playing under the Kolpak banner, would also lose the automatic right to play in the UK. This would potentially mean a number of the more high profile signings from the southern hemisphere power houses would be no longer treated as “non-foreign” and would be classed in the same bracket as other “foreign” players. The problem comes because most UK teams play in competitions that have a limit of 2 “foreign” players in a match day squad.

What would happen in reality?

If EU and Kolpak players are now subject to the same visa requirement rules as current “foreign” players, we may find that some players would no longer be permitted a visa given the playing standards would be too stringent for them to be met.

Secondly, if the 2 “foreign” players per match day squad is still applied then a number of “foreign” players would be sitting outside the match day squads. This could lead to more demand for UK qualified players with a drop-off in demand for those from overseas. This could lead to a number of strong overseas players being forced to play in France, Ireland or Italy.

In a cross-border league such as the Pro12 the teams would be subject to vastly different employment laws with respect to non-nationals which could upset the spread of overseas talent.

In reality it could take at least 2 years to agree how the issue of work permits will be dealt with between the UK and the EU, and indeed what – if anything, will replace the current agreements by which KOLPAK players have a right to play in the UK. There may well then be a transitional phase after the 2 years of negotiations, in which we see the new arrangements being gradually phased in.

Any agreement will be subject to political scrutiny though. As an example, one of the main pillars of the Brexit campaign, was to control immigration, therefore would it be acceptable to have work restrictions in sectors such as the service industry but no such protections in the world of rugby?

Another proposal put forward in some political circles is that agreements will be put in place with a number of current and ex-Commonwealth nations, which will smooth the way for the movement of skilled people to a UK free from EU shackles. Given the strong link between the Commonwealth and rugby this could potentially make the path for players to move from the likes of Fiji, New Zealand or Canada even smoother than it is today.

We should have a clearer idea over the next 2 years what the final outcome will be as negotiations proceed, but until then the current uncertainty makes planning difficult for club management and players alike.

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Why Professional Rugby is Impossible to Referee

In 2015 we wrote an article asking if professional rugby is now impossible to referee (read here); 18 months on and nothing has changed and there is a case to say that the referee’s job has become even harder.

If you read any rugby forum or Twitter conversation about a top end rugby game the comments always end up being focused on how poor the referee was – but how can this be the case when we have the best referees in the world officiating?

One of the main reasons that rugby watchers end up with this view is because they see infringements against their team, that the officials don’t pick up. The natural conclusion therefore is that the officials are incompetent? But how have we got to this position?

 

Rugby – the only sport that ignores infringements?

Rugby must be the only sport in the world where (at a conservative guess) more than 90% of infringements are ignored by officials. In every other sport, if a player infringes the rules or laws of the game they are penalised – but not in rugby!

This selective penalisation of offences is partly a function of the complexity of the game but in today’s world of professional rugby, it is more a function of the mass coaching of players to infringe, knowing referees can only penalise a small number of offences or they would render the game unwatchable.

To explain this concept in more detail let’s look at a 10 second clip from the 2017 6 Nations game between France and Wales. The clip shows the last second or two of a scrum, a penalty tap and the ensuing ruck.

Yes, this clip was in the dying stages of the game and the Welsh defence was hanging on but the offences are pretty common at any stage of a game at professional level. What the footage shows is replicated across all professional rugby on a regular basis.

To replicate the view of the respective supporters of each team, watch the clip again, firstly as a supporter of France and then as a Welsh supporter, and note down how many infringements you spot by the opposition in each case.

 

What’s an infringement?

When trying to spot the infringements, the first question that may pop in to a reader’s head is, what do you mean by infringement? Again, the complexity of rugby means we have perhaps 4 levels of laws and how they are officiated and applied:

  • The Law Book – the laws of rugby as written down. Sometimes these are followed, often they are ignored or “interpreted”
  • Law application guidelines and clarifications – these are official interpretations by World Rugby that are available on the website
  • Officials’ guidelines – if you are referee then you will receive coaching and information that helps you in your job. At the top level, the elite referees are given instructions by World Rugby that dictate how they adjudicate the game but these instructions aren’t made widely available to the rugby watching public
  • Individual referee’s interpretation – we still have referees interpreting laws differently, particularly across the two hemispheres

We won’t go in to this topic in any more detail now but it’s worth flagging the uncertainty we all have around what is or isn’t against the laws of the game.

 

The French View 

As a French supporter these are the Welsh infringements we spotted – there may be more you have seen that can be added to the list.

(1) Welsh loose head “hinges” with his head way below his hips, causing the scrum to collapse

 

(2) Welsh tight head collapses scrum under pressure – we can’t see what exactly happened given the camera angle, but this is what Wayne Barnes singles out as he penalises Wales

(3) Preventing a quick penalty tap – as Barnes signals for a French penalty, Rhys Webb tries to prevent or slow down the quick French tap by grabbing Picamoles.

 

(4) Failure to retreat from penalty – as Picamoles taps the ball at least 2 of the Welsh players in the camera view have not retreated to the try line.

 

(5) Not coming through the gate – as the tackle was made on Picamoles, Luke Charteris (number 19) approaches the tackle but fails to come through the Welsh gate, instead he flops on the tackled player on the French side in an effort to slow the ball down.

(6)  Not getting to feet or rolling away after a tackle – Liam Williams (number 11) assisted with the tackle but instead of getting to his feet or moving away from the tackle he attempts to play the ball (or at least slow it down) while still on his knees (he is the middle player in the screen shot below).

 

(7) Failure to release the ball while off feet – we can’t see who the player is but Barnes eventually penalises a Welsh player on the floor. We can just see the ball and the players arms as he belatedly tries to get away from the ball.

 

 

The Welsh View

Now switching sides and watching the events from a Welsh perspective there are a number of French infringements we spotted:

(1) The French tight head prop Slimani binds on the arm of his Welsh opposing prop pulling him downwards and causing the scrum to collapse.

 

(2) Penalty kick taken from the right place? It isn’t clear from the camera angle but it looks like Picamoles took the penalty tap in front of Waynes and not behind him or through the line of the mark.

 

(3) Offside at the tap – any players infront of the ball when the penalty is taken must immediately retire. In this case the French number 7 continues to move forward immediately after the tap rather than retreat until he was put onside.

 

(4)  Not joining the ruck at the back foot – Maestri (wearing 5) at the top of the image doesn’t join the ruck at the back foot but halfway down the ruck and ends up on the Welsh side (see second image where we can make out his number 5 shirt).

 

11 Infringements in 10 Seconds

If we sum these infringements we get 11 infringements in total, spread across the 2 teams. This total does not include other laws that are part of the law book but are not applied today, like having heads and shoulders no lower than hips when when joining a ruck or endeavouring to stay on one’s feet at the ruck. There are numerous examples of ruck laws that are just not applied any more.

Given the number of offences by each side that are ignored by the officials, we can easily see how supporters end up feeling their team has been hard done by and then blame the referee.

There isn’t an easy solution to the problem. The 3 possibilities are:

i) coaches and players back off and stop offending so frequently – which isn’t likely to happen given the win at all costs of modern rugby

ii) the officials start to penalise more offences

iii) we move towards the american football model of officiating, with a number of officials looking at different types of offences at any time

We will look at these options in a future blog, but for now it is easy to appreciate why supporters from all sides get frustrated during matches.  For those supporters who know the laws of the game, rugby can be a frustrating game to watch at the moment.

 

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