Whether you are a follower of rugby or rugby league, what you may be surprised to learn is that the least understood law in either game is the forward pass.
In both codes, the key component of the law is that when a player throws the ball, it must not be thrown in the direction of the opponents’ goal line.
Seems simple, doesn’t it?
Well, not really.
There’s actually a lot more to it than meets the eye, as Quade Cooper learned in the recent union test match against Scotland.
The key thing to understand is that it is the motion of the ball out of the hand which is all important , nothing else should be taken into account.
Why is that? Well, here’s a crash course in relativity for the uninitiated.
Think of yourself and a mate travelling in a car on the highway at 100km/hr in the two front seats. Your mate in the drivers seat throws you a packet of gum.
To do this, because you are directly alongside him, he simply tosses it sideways. Despite the fact that you are moving at 100km/hr, the gum does NOT fly backwards at 100km/hr and hit the back seat.
Why? Relativity. You are both moving forward at the same rate, so the throw is sideways.
Imagine now, you are a hitchhiker watching this from the side of the road.
As the car drives by you, the actual movement of the packet of gum is forward (alongside with everything else in the car) at 100km/hr. If you were measuring it along the ground, it may have travelled as much as 20 metres forwards despite the fact that it was thrown out of the hand sideways.
This is a crucial point that applies in rugby as well.
If a player is sprinting forwards and throws the ball sideways (or even backwards) out of hand, the ball will still end up travelling forwards if compared to the ground no matter what. And that is why the law must be judged according how the ball leaves the hand, not it’s path against the ground.
Watching on TV, not many people would have pulled up Quade Cooper’s pass as forward.
That’s because it was in fact fine. It came out of the hand sideways. His only mistake (if you can call it that) is that he was moving forwards too fast. Which is exactly what we want a player to be doing!
This is also why Northern Hemisphere punters who watch the Super 14 always say it is full of forward passes. It is simply that we play the game at pace in comparison to their leagues.
Need more convincing?
Watch this referees training video made which demonstrates the concept much better than a simple write up can do.
It’s not rocket science, people. But it is relativity!