Are we 41 phases closer to reinstating the breakdown laws?

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By Highlander, Highlander is a Roar Rookie

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    Despite the relatively easy penalty miss from the French with three minutes to go, Ireland displayed a level of rugby smarts and execution which reaffirms their place as one of the top three sides in our game.

    From the excellent regather from quick drop kick restart – which took place while the French were sound asleep – to the best drop goal since some bloke from the Crusaders, it was a controlled and wonderfully focused section of play.

    But is this really how we want our game to be played, the change in the breakdown laws has, in the Northern Hemisphere to date, seen the foraging turnover disappear from the game.

    Let’s be clear, at the Northern Hemisphere level in internationals the turnover has hardly been a major weapon for attacking teams and winning games. In last year’s Six Nations neither of England, Scotland or Wales managed to score a try from a turnover, while Ireland managed three.

    The ruck has been a vehicle for slowing down the opposition ball and giving defences time to reset but it did remain a contest.

    But as I watched Ireland go through the phases in winning this game I couldn’t help but think that all the laws of unintended consequences had come home to roost and there was a game of rugby league with unlimited tackles unfolding. I felt that a mad scramble might be happening at World Rugby as they looked to dig the old laws out of the bottom draw.

    What could the French have done?

    41 phases means 41 tackles and 41 rucks, which should provide 41 opportunities to do, well, something.

    Our game is supposed to be a continuous contest for the ball after all.

    Well, in part the 41 phases were France’s fault, they were extremely passive throughout all the phases and clearly did not want to risk giving away a penalty, but it took Ireland 24 phases to cross the halfway line so the scope to be more aggressive in defence was there.

    Connor Murray was his laborious but accurate self from the base so the opportunity to hit players behind the advantage line was always present but not taken.

    I should note here that Murray’s pass to Sexton for the droppie was spot on and released on the way up. He needs to do this more often.

    I counted only two big tackles from all phases and neither went for the ball in the tackle.

    Those who watched Sam Cane in the EOYT Wales game would have noticed a slight change in his technique and he forced three drops from Welsh players with very big hits.

    Ireland had four guys take the ball up in half of these phases, France simply didn’t have a plan for them.

    Where was the strangle?

    The Irish are past masters at holding up the ball carrier and forcing a maul turnover, and the French themselves are no slouches here but not a one was attempted.

    Drawing the Ireland side into sealing off over the ball?

    If the Irish ball carriers are running too low to attempt a holdup, then the opportunity must be there to get them to over commit to the ruck. They need to put guys on the ground past the ball and get penalised for sealing off, but the French were so passive there was hardly a need for a second wave of clean outs for Ireland.

    Ireland Scotland 6 Nations Rugby

    (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

    Thus this particular risk wasn’t forced, although there was one incident where the Irish were inaccurate and could have been pinged for being on the ground past the ball.

    If a side is running down the clock to win a game they are constantly warned not to seal off, it shouldn’t be any different if a side is keeping the ball trying to win a game.

    Why does refereeing change at the end of the game?

    Nigel Owens was never going to blow his whistle for anything other than fulltime once Ireland got out of their own half, he was refereeing the situation and not the game. It would be hard to find any game where 41 rucks went by without a penalty being awarded either way.

    Now we are all aware that with rugby’s somewhat complex laws you can find an infringement at any contest but even without being picky I think there were at least two occasions when France should been penalised for lying on the ball.

    Perhaps more importantly, Ireland could easily have been called for clearing from the side (phase 3), accidental offside (phase 15) not releasing (phase 25) or clearing out a player past the ball and from the side (phase 35).

    There were a whole bunch of Irish bodies on the ground past the ball at phase 36 too, have seen this penalised often.

    Rugby referee Nigel Owens

    (AFP, Franck Fife)

    So if we are going to continue with these breakdown laws that benefit possession so strongly then there is a real need to reinforce our remaining laws with consistency.

    Are we in a situation where the new breakdown laws are going to see the game turn into unlimited tackle rugby league, I am going to with a no at this stage.

    Ireland are probably the world’s best when it comes to retaining the ball, with or without the new laws. France were particularly passive; but these new laws have eliminated a key contest area from our game and lets hope better sides than France find ways to be aggressive in getting the ball back.

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    The Crowd Says (75)

    • February 8th 2018 @ 6:18am
      FunBus said | February 8th 2018 @ 6:18am | ! Report

      Don’t agree. There were at least five jackalled turnovers at rucks in the Wales – Scotland game alone. The French made a deliberate decision not to contest any of those 41 rucks in the final minute because they calculated Ireland’s only chance was a penalty. I’ve seen many similar situations before the new laws were put in place.

      • February 8th 2018 @ 11:58am
        Highlander said | February 8th 2018 @ 11:58am | ! Report

        we clearly watched different games’

        with the declaration that I turned off after 74th minutes, the Evans try by my count

        Successful in play pilfers – 0
        Not releasing pens – 4
        Incorrect hands@ breakdown – 2

    • Roar Guru

      February 8th 2018 @ 6:51am
      Poth Ale said | February 8th 2018 @ 6:51am | ! Report

      But is this really how we want our game to be played, the change in the breakdown laws has, in the Northern Hemisphere to date, seen the foraging turnover disappear from the game.”

      The problem with You Tube highlights. No one actually watches rugby anymore. Makes you wonder what players like Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan, John Muldoon, Rory Best, Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy, Rhys Ruddock, Josh Murphy, Chris Cloete are even doing out on the pitch these days….they must have been looking for flowers in the games I’ve watched them in this season.

      There is a marked contrast between the French competing at the breakdown inthe Irish half – about 18-19 times – and their deliberate tackle only stance once Earls brought it to their 10m line.

    • Roar Guru

      February 8th 2018 @ 6:52am
      Kia Kaha said | February 8th 2018 @ 6:52am | ! Report

      Cheers, Highlander.

      I need to clear some time to watch these games. 41 phases is an alarming figure but as you point out there were options the French didn’t take to get at the ball.

      • February 8th 2018 @ 7:40am
        Highlander said | February 8th 2018 @ 7:40am | ! Report

        Gday KK, not sure I would give up 80 minutes to watch the Fra/Ire game, its largely a snore fest, but the execution to go from your 22 to claim the drop goal is pretty good and worth a look.

        • February 8th 2018 @ 10:06am
          Taylorman said | February 8th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

          41 phases is absurd as well. And that was to move a net twenty odd yards.

        • February 8th 2018 @ 3:56pm
          Cuw said | February 8th 2018 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

          @ Highlander

          if u think this is bad , watch the 7S.

          i am no expert in rugger Laws , so i will repeat what the commentators ( Karl Tenana ) said.

          ” as per new Laws a ruck is formed when a player from the ball carriers side binds on to him and tha tackler must get back to his side ”

          now in 7S unlike in XVs there are not many to go and contest rucks – meaning to push the opposition off the ball. so basically it becomes very hard for defending team to get hold of the ball.

          and in 7S without the ball – u might as well walk off the pitch.

          also in the close match NZ lost to Fiji there was an incident , called by the ref but showed the issues.

          Fiji attacker carried the ball upto NZ 5m. NZ defender tackled and somehow managed to push the 2nd Fijian off the ball and recover the ball.

          but as per Law that is a ruck. the 2nd arriving NZ player MIckelsson went from the side , though he did not join the ruck , but the ref deemed incorrect entry and a penalty to Fiji, of which they scored.

          KTN though that was harsh , as TimMic had not bound to anyone in the ruck or interfered with the play.

          with such decision , i can understand why France opted not to contest the rucks, coz ur never sure what the ref will say. but i have to say that Nigel Owens was pretty fair in his reffing.

          • February 8th 2018 @ 7:16pm
            ClarkeG said | February 8th 2018 @ 7:16pm | ! Report

            Cuw I thought that penalty against Mickelson was fairly straightforward. He entered the tackle area from the wrong direction anticipating the Fijian player was going to push the ball away from the tackle on release.

            There was actually never a ruck because Koroi had already made the tackle and got up and retrieved the ball so the penalty had little to do with the new trial laws.

            No binding is required to form the ruck. All that is needed is one attacking player on his feet over the ball.

            But the referees in the 7s are very whistle happy more so than 15s to the point it is often ridiculous.

            • February 8th 2018 @ 8:10pm
              Cuw said | February 8th 2018 @ 8:10pm | ! Report

              but the ref said incorrect ruck entry – hence the complaint from KTN.

              my understanding was there is no offside line at a tackle

              Mickleson was not part of the ruck .

              so it is confusing.

              actually it was really a headache watching the 7s in auzzy and NZ. there was a lot of arguements among the 4 of us who watched and taking the concentration away from the game.

              • February 9th 2018 @ 9:14am
                ClarkeG said | February 9th 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report

                The ref told Mikkelson the pen was for entry to the tackle.

                Initially I wondered what the pen was for like Te Nana but he was considering Karoi’s involvement and overlooking Mikkelson’s involvement which is clear from the replay.

                True there is still no offside line at a tackle unless of course an attacking player gets over the ball on his feet under the new trial law.

                Mikkelson was not offside but he did move into the tackle area from the wrong direction and that is what he was penalised for.

                Also true there was no ruck but it makes no difference in this instance.

                This, with the benefit of watching the replay, for me is a straightforward pen.

                Not to say that much of the 7s refereeing is not confusing however. A lot of it is.

    • Roar Guru

      February 8th 2018 @ 6:55am
      Poth Ale said | February 8th 2018 @ 6:55am | ! Report

      It would be hard to find any game where 41 rucks went by without a penalty being awarded either way.

      The oddest thing just occurred. I put “winning drop goal after 41 phases” into Google and…

      O’Gara winning drop goal after 41 phases.

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BFJ65Og3A2o

      Must be an Irish thing.

      • February 8th 2018 @ 7:06am
        Highlander said | February 8th 2018 @ 7:06am | ! Report

        As I noted PA, No matter the law structure Ireland are the best retaining the ball, this side even more so.
        The Munster example was particularly impressive as there were some real contests through those phases.

      • February 8th 2018 @ 10:08am
        ClarkeG said | February 8th 2018 @ 10:08am | ! Report

        Highlanders point being that it would be rare and I’m sure he’s right in thinking that

        O’Gara’s goal is after 40 phases in fact. 🙂

        Well at least according to the screen graphic that is.

        • Roar Guru

          February 8th 2018 @ 1:37pm
          Poth Ale said | February 8th 2018 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

          Sure it’s 98 every time someone tells the story down in Thomond…. :).

          Spoofers – the lot of ‘em.

          • February 8th 2018 @ 2:01pm
            ClarkeG said | February 8th 2018 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

            Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. 🙂

    • February 8th 2018 @ 7:29am
      Cynical Play said | February 8th 2018 @ 7:29am | ! Report

      I’d love to see the stats on refereeing in the last 5 mins of the tests over the last 5-10 years: that is penalties given as compared to the rest of the game. You get the impression some Referees do referee differently if the game is tight, in those last 5 mins. May just be an impression.

      Not so the League State of Origin where the whistle hardly ever gets blown no matter what occurs, compared to weekly club league games. Now that always astounds me.

    • Columnist

      February 8th 2018 @ 7:44am
      Nicholas Bishop said | February 8th 2018 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      Decent article H’lander – I wonder if it’s becoming a concern for the lawmakers that ball retention rates at both set-piece and breakdown now seem to be heading north of 90% so regularly?

      • February 8th 2018 @ 7:49am
        Highlander said | February 8th 2018 @ 7:49am | ! Report

        Thanks NIck
        90% of retention at the breakdown doesn’t really imply a contest for the ball does it

        This game was an extreme example, the side best in the world at retaining the ball vs a side simply waiting for the error that ever came, so here’s hoping we don’t get many of these, but I thought it worth proposing the question.

        • February 8th 2018 @ 11:49am
          Fionn said | February 8th 2018 @ 11:49am | ! Report

          The thing I loved (used to love?) about rugby was that the ball was always in contest:

          – rucking
          – line out
          – scrum
          – high balls
          – pilfering

          – Rucking seems to have declined quite a bit
          – The line out is still there (thankfully), but too often the referees don’t penalise teams for not throwing straight, especially when setting up mauls
          – Scrum needs to be refereed better and I wish the halfback was made to put the ball in straight
          – They’re now soooo strict in giving penalties away for making things dangerous for the player in the air that so often players don’t even risk competing and just let the defender catch it before tackling them
          – Now pilfering seems to risk being made somewhat obsolete also.

          I think they need to rethink the way they want the game to go.

          • February 8th 2018 @ 12:10pm
            Highlander said | February 8th 2018 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

            The key word is contest, and while stated in the article its probably too early to round on the new laws just yet, it is a disturbing looking trend,

            NBs post that he sees numbers where all breakdowns and set pieces are above 90% retention this year is however real concern and is concrete evidence.

            We are not basketball where you have turns at trying to score

            • Roar Guru

              February 8th 2018 @ 1:40pm
              Poth Ale said | February 8th 2018 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

              Funny you should mention basketball, Highlander. There’s this place called New Zealand and you may have seen some of their Super Rugby games….. 😏

              • February 8th 2018 @ 1:58pm
                Highlander said | February 8th 2018 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

                Same guys who put a team together, came to your house, played with 14 men for 20 minutes and scored 3 tries to 0 last time out…..those guys? 🙂

              • Roar Guru

                February 8th 2018 @ 8:26pm
                Poth Ale said | February 8th 2018 @ 8:26pm | ! Report

                The very ones.

              • February 8th 2018 @ 5:46pm
                Cuw said | February 8th 2018 @ 5:46pm | ! Report

                touche’

              • February 9th 2018 @ 3:36am
                Taylorman said | February 9th 2018 @ 3:36am | ! Report

                Yes, the same ones that host northern teams endlessly who for some reason don’t want their turn at scoring very much. Odd that one. I mean they see it enough here…

      • February 8th 2018 @ 10:22am
        ClarkeG said | February 8th 2018 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        I’m sure it is a concern.

        This concern was behind the trial laws in New Zealand’s NPC in 2016.

        At that time the intent was to encourage more defenders to the tackle/ruck but as we have discussed previously Nicholas the outcome was everything but.

        • February 8th 2018 @ 11:20am
          Highlander said | February 8th 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report

          Clarke, those 2016 trial laws where everyone ended up standing round the ruck kicking at the ball like a under9s soccer team was truly awful….those got the short shift.

          • February 8th 2018 @ 2:21pm
            ClarkeG said | February 8th 2018 @ 2:21pm | ! Report

            Well not exactly Lander. They have in part been adopted into the now world wide trials.

            Two points out of those NZ trials.

            – the tackler being required to enter the tackle area by the same means as all other defenders.

            – an offside line being created when one attacking player is on feet over the ball.

            Both points are now in place in present trials.

            The point that was discarded from the NZ trials was the loosening of the so called gate entry requirement to the tackle area.

            • February 8th 2018 @ 2:37pm
              Highlander said | February 8th 2018 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

              Thanks for that ClarkeG
              So to be clear, the wider gate entry issues caused the kicking fiasco? Did they not pass a specific law about kicking at the ball, or was it a guideline??

              • Roar Guru

                February 8th 2018 @ 3:12pm
                Rugby Fan said | February 8th 2018 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

                It’s now illegal to kick a ball in a ruck. That’s probably why Maro Itoje has looked less effective this season, since he used to disrupt opposition rucks a lot by doing that. Did it a couple of times during the Lions series,

              • February 8th 2018 @ 3:21pm
                Highlander said | February 8th 2018 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

                So its a law RF? – ok thanks

              • February 8th 2018 @ 3:24pm
                ClarkeG said | February 8th 2018 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

                I have no idea Lander on what brought about the kicking fiasco. We would need a hotline to the NZ NPC coaches for that I think. But I can’t see how the loosening of the gate entry would be related.

                Yes their is now a specific law preventing kicking the ball.

                But there was an opportunity lost in the NZ trials. The hope was that there would be more of a contest for the ball with more players needed at the ruck but the opposite happened.

              • February 8th 2018 @ 4:11pm
                Cuw said | February 8th 2018 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

                it is now illegal to kick the ball forwards , but not illegal to rake it backwards ( like a hooker) with the feet.

                perhaps it is difficult to rake it back with the number of bodies on the ground – compared to kick it forwards.

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