The Breakdown – no change in the law
By Vimal Perera
The breakdown and the application of the laws is a topic of discussion and the debate was not as intense as COVID 19 putting rugby on hold.
New Zealand Rugby national referee manager Bryce Lawrence described the stricter policing of the breakdown and how his team of referees will adhere to the existing laws. He stated they would be applied more strictly to create a faster attacking ball and a fairer contest. “ We are not changing the laws of the game; we’re stricter about how we referee them.”
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “The breakdown is the most dynamic facet of the game and is increasingly difficult to referee. But, just as importantly, it is responsible for 9% of injuries.”
“Therefore, it is important that we look to identify ways to reduce the risk of injury while promoting a fair contest for the ball.”
Given the opinions, the strict policing of the breakdown is not only about the faster ball but also about a fair contest that will reduce the risk of injury and make rugby safer.
The strict policing leads to the ball carrier playing the ball or placing it immediately - the tackler releasing quickly and moving away to create space. It will also lead to rewarding the player who wins the race to the contest—penalising side entry and players who dive and not drive into rucks. There is an emphasis to punish those who do not support the body weight but go down on elbows and forearms. The direction is also to encourage players to stay on their feet. Tightened also are the areas of foul play around the breakdown.
The implementation in Sri Lanka will require coaches, players and referees understanding the motive behind the guidelines for strict application of laws at the breakdown. Initially, I believe there will be a greater penalty count (has happened globally) which, properly managed, will lead to better rugby. The favourable outcome will require Coaches and Match Officials to be on the same wavelength. The positive result will be only if coaches and referees meet to discuss and agree. The cap that blocks the communication between referees and coaches needs removal by meeting more often. The naïve thinking that coaches need not know how we referee has to change.
Equally important is the need for better communication while whistling the breakdown. It is not by shouting and often shouting to nobody. Talking has to be with players and not to players. Take a few clips from matches and see how it is done at the breakdown.
Take a scenario where a penalty awarded for not releasing the ball carrier. While players are on the ground, the referee keeps talking and shouting and/or barking. Players are in the process of getting on their feet and preoccupied with getting back ten metres. Will talking and/or shouting at this point get the message to the players? To reduce the penalty count, the players must know what happened.
That is where management is strange to many on most occasions. That is as a word, as well as in practice, and you can see the action if somebody cares to study a few clips.
How should management be in practice? Try talking after three to five seconds giving players’ time to get on their feet, and then tell what happened and why you penalised. That will help communicate better and manage the game better – a change from being trigger happy to talk. Do not start explaining as soon as you penalise, and get on with the play. To get this done, you need to get the support of the coaches, who in turn will get the message to the players while understanding the match official.
Training and education are essential and should not be complacent in thinking that there is time for games to start. If there is consensus before the season on all essential areas of the game, it could help in educating the players and not wait till COVID 19 gives a green light. On the other hand, there is more talk on the SLR elections. Both possible contenders are in the present council and could agree on the course of action.
What is this breakdown that has drawn much attention? That is the short period of play after a tackle and before and during the ruck. Ruck science explains the importance of the breakdown is because it has developed as a point of competition for the ball. The race supports the first and most crucial principle of rugby – the contest for possession. The breakdown delivers the most subtle form of battle in the game. The importance of eternally contesting for the ball is the fundamental core of rugby and the reason why the game works.
The game works on possession that helps to go forward, continue to add pressure and put points on the board. It is the continuity – or more often called flow – that keeps the game alive through greater spectator interest. The sport is always a contest. The contest has to be fair and safe.
It is important to understand the fact there is no change to the laws of the game but it is only a case of enforcing the laws and being more strict in its application. That is what the recent world rugby guidelines are trying to achieve.
Whether you are a referee, a coach or a player, is to remember the intention of more ball and safe rugby. Faster the ball is available, the better it is for the game.
.The ‘jackler’ is the arriving player who must enter legally, be on their feet and over the ball, with an attempt to lift it. Likely to be rewarded more quickly, and there is no longer the expectation to ‘survive the clear out’. But one cannot limit the thinking that quick lift is what the ‘jackler’ does.
The mindset has to change to that of lifting the ball, for a better attack involves all at the breakdown. The scrum-half or other player disposes the ball quickly, and the possibility of having the opponent out of place is real. That will provide an opening. That I think is what is in the guideline.