Watching the first 20 minutes of the Force vs Reds trial match on Friday, it was clear the effect the new interpretation of the tackle laws could have on attacking rugby this season. It was great to see a team taking initiative, playing attacking rugby, and being rewarded for it.
The task for the Force was made easier with an experimental Reds backrow, however the intent of the referee to reward the attacking team where possible was clear, but was it fair?
Who cares – after some of the shit we had to sit through last year, I would rather see a contest weighted in favour of the attacking team than one that favoured the defending team any day.
Brumbies captain, Stephen Hoiles, summed up the view of many with his assessment that attacking rugby had been neglected and disadvantaged for too long.
“I think the new interpretations which say the tackler has to release the tackled player is good, because it gives the attacking team the opportunity to play the ball.
”You shouldn’t penalise a guy who’s made a good run because there’s been a tackler from behind drag him down and kept his body on him the whole time. It makes sense.”
As always, with the new of interpretations of the laws, there is the risk of unintended consequences. The consequence in this case could well be the death of breakdown turnover – maybe that’s the real reason George pulled the pin!
Last year the decision to allow defending teams a greater chance to affect turnovers was seen as a way of making a more free-flowing game. But far from promoting turnover counter-attack based play, the Boks exploited this change with brutal simplicity and the unintended consequence was the kick-fest.
Even the Northern Hemisphere have tweaked their interpretation of the tackle law in following much the same line as SANZAR by bringing down the edict that the tackled player must be released by the tackler thus allowing him to place the ball back a full arms length away from the defenders. This interpretation seemed to have had the desired outcome with the England vs Wales game being the most entertaining in years and yeilding five tries .
Speaking after his side was well and truly pantsed by the Force at the tackle contest, Reds coach Ewen McKenzie, highlighted the difference the new interpretation had made.
“With the new laws, the way they are interpreting it, you can’t really get the ball at the breakdown anymore, so the only opportunity is to compete at set piece. It is definitely a different game, the tackle area.
“You only saw two penalties against the attacking team. It gives a lot more confidence to attack and you could see in the game, you get a lot of momentum and a lot of phases to play around with so you’ve already seen a massive shift in the game, and that’s good.”
With the interpretation being that the tackler has to immediately release the tackled player and roll away from the contest, it will be interesting to see what innovations coaches and teams come up with to even the contest.
It would appear that if attempting a to snaffle the ball at the ruck becomes so fraught, teams probably will not bother in most cases. Instead of committing numbers to rucks, it would make more sense for the defending team to concede and simply add those players to the defensive line wouldn’t it?
Perhaps the most novel approach so far comes from South Africa, where the Stormers’ players have taken to clapping their hands in an effort to show they have released the tackled player before attempting the steal…weird huh?
If you’re attempting a steal and you know it, clap you’re hands…I can’t see it catching on.