This week we concern ourselves with technicalities – the little things matter…
This week we concern ourselves with technicalities, because it's the little things that decide some games…
There's been a few mails and conversations over the past few days about technicalities of laws and interpretations of technicalities of laws… and they've been dashed interesting – and also no coincidence that most of the talking points come from the highest-quality games of November: Ireland-New Zealand and Wales-Australia.
We'll wind back in time first and revisit New Zealand's epic victory over Ireland last week, with Aaron Cruden's concrete-guts kick that won the game.
Charge-downs are… well, I can't remember having seen one since the day I stupidly took a conversion too close to the posts at the age of 16 (that's MANY years ago). You still see people run forward from the tryline, but for many it is probably as much a mental switch to move on from the try they've just conceded rather than a genuine belief that the modern kicker might scuff one.
Anyway, the rules are pretty clear: you can't move until the kicker starts his run-up. Ireland apparently jumped the gun, hence Cruden got another shot and New Zealand got the win.
But the key question here is what constitutes the start of a run-up? A wise old man of some 70-odd years' experience playing, refereeing, coaching and watching in various countries at various levels said to me Sunday: “We were always told that it was when he moved his feet.”
Intriguing. Watch this clip – at 0.55 and particularly at 1.49.
So, Cruden's routine is one of those quirky ones that really good kickers seem to pride themselves on. He steps back, stands still for a bit. Then he replants both feet twice. Then he stands still for a bit again. It is possible he repeats the foot-planting some times. Then still. And then, finally, he actually begins his run-up.
There are many kickers whose run-up begins with a step backwards or to the side, there are many others who make all sorts of weird movements during their kick routines.
Remember Neil Jenkins' curious assortment of bodily twitches? Jonny Wilkinson's egg-laying stance? Gavin Henson's high-step? But all of those movements were at least continuous; once a step was taken, there was no going back.
So we'll bring you back to the old man: “…it was when he moved his feet.” Cruden quite clearly moves his feet and then stands still again. But by dint of this foot movement, why should Ireland not be entitled to start the charge? Did Cruden get protection because he then stood still again? Are we to set a trend for kickers who might start their run-up, change their mind and stand still and thus neutralize a charge?
Or is that you can't charge until a kicker moves forward?
This would appear to be the problem. IRB Law 9.b.2 states that neither kicker nor placer must do anything that misleads their opponents into charging too soon. But 9.b.3 says that all players of the charging team must not overstep the goal-line until the kicker begins the approach.
In Cruden's case, the two laws seem to contradict each other. You could just as easily argue that Cruden's foot-stomping action is misleading as you could that being as he doesn't move forward he has not begun an actual approach. In an age where kickers' routines are full of idiosyncrasy, who is to say Cruden's movement is not the start of his approach.
Perhaps this is going to be one of those law adjustments made in the wake of the 2015 World Cup…
There was also a technical officiating observation during the thrilling Wales-Australia game on Saturday, concerning use of the TMO as the ball went back into goal.
Wayne Barnes asked his TMO about whether the ball had crossed the goal-line or not, after it had struck the corner post and Dan Biggar had picked it up. Subsequent replays showed it had, so Biggar had not carried it across – Barnes watched the replay and barely even acknowledged his TMO when awarding a 22 drop-out.
However, what nobody looked at was Biggar's foot, which touched the touchline in the field of play while he had possession of the ball. So surely it should have been a 5m line-out to Australia?
We can't find a law that relates precisely to this. The definition says: 'The ball is in touch when a player is carrying it and the ball carrier (or the ball) touches the touchline or the ground beyond the touchline. The place where the ball carrier (or the ball) touched or crossed the touchline is where it went into touch.'
Which would mean Biggar was in touch a metre from his own line. We can find nothing that says the ball being above the in-goal area when a player steps into touch makes a difference… was Mr. Barnes a little too hasty in his assumptions, or perhaps a little too dismissive of the TMO's opinions?
If you wanted any concrete proof of why NH teams cannot beat SH teams, you should look no further than the final 10 minutes of the Cardiff thriller.
At the two most likely passages of play to bring you a scoring opportunity – loose kick returns and turnovers – Australia were like lightning. Ball won – bang – out wide it goes to the space at light-speed.
Wales meanwhile… ball won – right, let's get a pod together… ok well what about a box kick… no space ok so back to the pod idea… why don't you get it and run very hard straight into the big defender opposite you…
Same with the kick returns late on. Australia: catch, pass, pass, step – space here – offload, pass, accelerate… and they win back metres.
Wales meanwhile; pass… do I kick it back? We are in our own half after all… no? Ok (meanwhile a forward who galloped back is now waiting ten metres in front of the ball for someone to run it so he can support in a ruck)… so I'll pass to… oh you're covered. Ok, I'll run very hard straight into the big defender opposite and set up a ruck…
It's a mindset problem. Losing the Heineken Cup might make it even worse.
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson