The All Blacks, lineouts and the flying wedge…..

My pre-game prediction for the Rugby Championship fixture between South Africa and New Zealand (25th July) was South Africa would keep it tight and use their forwards to batter the Kiwis, as it was the only chance they had of winning. This turned out to be some way off the mark as South Africa moved the ball wide and with the elusive running of Willie Le Roux and Jessie Kriel they looked just as potent as the New Zealand back line.

The game threw up a couple of interesting incidents that we will now look at in more detail.

New Zealand try – 73 minutes (v South Africa)

This is a bit of a collector’s item because it was scored by the receiver at the lineout, who is usually the scrum half. In this case the try scorer wasn’t the scrum half but New Zealand’s captain Richie Mccaw. The screen shot below shows the set up before the ball was thrown in, with a shortened lineout and McCaw at the receiver position.

mccaw try

As the ball is released the New Zealand pod moves to the back of the lineout taking the South African markers with them while at the front of the lineout a clever dummy from Franks (wearing 18) drags away his opposite number which creates a hole in the middle of the lineout. Mccaw then steals through the gap to take the ball and dot it over the line.

mccaw try 3

Twitter has been alive with comments asking if a receiver can enter a lineout and take the ball. For those that enjoy reading rugby laws you can feast your eyes on law 19.8.i which deals with this situation. The law says:

Where the receiver must stand. If a team uses a receiver, then that player, must be positioned at least 2m back from team mates in the lineout, and between the 5m and 15m lines, until the lineout begins.
Once the lineout has commenced, the receiver may move into the lineout and may perform all actions available to players in the lineout and is liable to related sanctions.
So not only was it good knowledge of the laws of rugby but New Zealand have been creative to find ways to score tries in an area of the field where defensive sides tend to expect the conventional set and driving maul. It isn’t the first time recently the All Blacks have shown ingenuity in attacking lineout situations.
New Zealand try (versus Argentina 17 July 2015)

New Zealand’s first try in the Rugby Championship fixture came from another attacking lineout with McCaw set as the receiver. This time a full lineout is set and the ball is thrown to the front for a clean take.

NZ lineout 1

McCaw then moves towards the lineout and is passed the ball as the taker returns to ground before the maul fully forms. He then peels around the blind side where Argentina have been left short of numbers.

nz try 2

The interesting point to note here is that McCaw has a fellow player binding on to him and aiding him driving forward before contact has been made with the opposition. This makes a difficult tackle virtually impossible with the momentum of two players hitting in to a tackle but let’s come back to this point in law in a minute.

New Zealand know they do not have the most powerful front 5 but they have shown creative ways to breach the try line from attacking lineouts in the last two games. This is something other teams will have to watch – particularly when McCaw moves in the receiving position.

Flying wedge?

We have seen McCaw get a bit of help from a fellow player to get across the try line but South Africa also used the tactic to good effect in their home game against New Zealand.

This came from an attacking lineout on the All Black line. The ball is won and passed to the second row de Jager who has two supporting runners with him, one either side.

SA wedge

It is just possible to pick out in the frame below that the two supporting players has already bound to de Jager before they have come in to contact with the defence.

wedge 2

Richie McCaw made a tackle and the ball was held up but the benefit of having two players pre-binding to an attacking player can’t be under estimated. So is it legal?

Is pre-binding before contact legal?

This is a grey area that needs clarification. Interestingly the area of law that covers the scenario best is Dangerous Play and Misconduct which suggests the law makers see the flying wedge as a dangerous action rather than a purely technical matter.

The law (10.4.P) says:

The kicker tap-kicks the ball and starts the attack, either by driving towards the goal line or by passing to a team-mate who drives forward. Immediately, team mates bind on each side of the ball carrier in a wedge formation. Often one or more of these team mates is in front of the ball carrier. A ‘Flying Wedge’ is illegal.

This definition isn’t particularly helpful; what does “often” mean? This infers that the team mates don’t have to be in front of the ball for it to be illegal so in our two recent examples even though the supporting players are behind the ball carrier there is an argument this is illegal.

To further confuse matters there has been a law clarification which tried to clear up when is a flying wedge not a flying wedge. Clarification 7 2006 stated that as long as the defending players weren’t preventing a defender making a tackle on the ball carrier this pre-binding should be permitted.

Confusing?

It seems as if the law doesn’t allow for pre-binding on an attacking player before contact but the law clarification allows it as long as the defender can make a tackle.

This area probably needs further clarification as most referees wouldn’t allow 5 players binding in a wedge with a ball carrier at the front, even if a tackler can make a clear tackle.

It is potentially a dangerous tactic and importantly it doesn’t allow for a fair contest in the tackle with one player having to tackle the combined momentum if 2 or more attacking players. It would be interesting to hear if readers have a different view on the legality of the tactic and its potential dangers.

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