Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

01st April 2014 08:14

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Beauden Barrett brought to ground for Hurricanes

Blocked: Beauden Barrett

Welcome to Loose Pass, our weekly collection of unsolicited ten pence worths, unbraked trains of thought and tidal streams of consciousness.

This week's dictated notes concern professional habits, your reaction to last week's article and a terrific amateur rugby experience.

So last week I got maul cheating technicalities off my chest. More on that in a moment being as so many of you were so kind to react - some of the reaction even being positive. But this week another habit raised its head, one which also deserves a mention.

This one about the receiving team and kicks. Early on in the Hurricanes' thrilling win at home to the Crusaders last week, Beauden Barrett launched a booming up and under. One of those ones you can have a birthday before it comes down.

Barrett chased hard - there was no way he wouldn't have got to the ball initially. But he did end up getting there late and clattered clumsily into Israel Dagg in mid-air, giving away a penalty for his troubles. Sadly I cannot find a video this time, but you will recognise the scenario.

Why the lateness? Well as the perennially excellent Tony Johnson pointed out, Barrett had to veer out of his chasing line at the last moment because Andy Ellis had sheepishly managed to position himself quite quickly in between Barrett and Dagg, meaning Barrett was delayed because he had to step.

Ellis was ignored by the referee because he wasn't moving - certainly not at the critical pair of seconds anyway, but is that now a good enough reason not to penalise someone for standing in the way? Lazy runners get penalised, cleaners who hang around on the wrong side of the ruck get penalised, tacklers not making enough of an effort to get away get penalised, why should the 'lazy receiver', as I'll call him, be any different? He serves absolutely no rugby purpose standing there. He is no use to his own team as he is forward of the ball, he obviously won't ruck... he is doing nothing except obstructing the opposition.

While that ball is up in the air - and even a prop can tell where a kicked ball is more or less going to land - I reckon it's about time rugby got tough on the lazy receivers. It has become something too negative, something used to prevent chasing off the ball, and what is worse, something negative I have seen coached to youngsters. Do we want negative tactics in the game? No sir...


To last week and the maul discussion - among other things. Mr. Lee Wynd was kind enough to agree with me and also to vent a little spleen at the way the line-out lifters end up as blockers in front of the ball allowing the maul to form.

The IRB actually passed a law stopping the blocking and insisting the lifters bind on to the catcher at the line-out rather than in front of him as had become the norm, but this is not a concept that has seeped down below pro level - I've seen it coached the wrong way as recently as a month ago at grassroots. Definitely one that merits individual analysis and further enforcement - I'll watch the games this weekend and see how often teams get away with it. But I disagree that the choke tackle has become too defence-friendly - in the fluid game where tactically a team should know where the ball is going next, it's up to the ball-carrying team to manage its own contact properly and get the ball to ground and available. Holding a ball-carrier upright in a tackle for a few seconds is no mean feat and deserves to be rewarded.

There was another excellent point though. Mr. Wynd stated that too many teams are being penalised on defence when a maul has rotated and a player comes in 'from the side' even though he has actually entered through the gate - between the imaginary lines parallel to the touchline and from the sidemost feet of the maul and the one parallel to the tryline running from the hindmost foot of the maul. It happens often. Just because a maul rotates, the gate does not rotate with it.

Meanwhile Mr. David Cartwright wondered about the one where a tackler can pick up the ball after a tackle from an offside position - where he springs to his feet on the opposition side of his tacklee after the tackle and goes for the ball.

Fact is, a player can pick up the ball from wherever he wants as long as a ruck has not been formed, so there's nothing to police here. You don't see this happen in 15s so much because frankly, any opponent standing on your side of the ruck is likely to be cleaned out in the manner of a wrecking ball taking out a danish pastry, but in sevens there can be more time before the cleaner arrives, and sevens players are becoming specialists at stealing ball in this manner.

As a side-note to that, an attempt to make this tackler get back on his own side before coming for the ball was one of the more abhorrent of the Experimental Law Variations three or four years ago. It just didn't work, creating contentious offsides and too many unnecessary penalties - or free-kicks as it was then. I still shudder when thinking of them.

Anyway, keep the observations coming - either in the comments below or by email.


Finally, it's good to get away. A working assignment in Vancouver this week enabled a weekend stay and a trip to a local rugby match. Played in pouring rain at the Brockton Oval - which has to be one of the world's most scenic rugby grounds: in Stanley Park and overlooking the harbour and city skyline - James Bay defeated Vancouver Rowing Club by around 50-30, with both teams playing some top-notch rugby and watched by some equally top-notch people, which goes a little of the way to explaining why I cannot remember the precise score.

The match was in the top tier of the British Columbia League, which is reputed to be the best of all the provincial leagues. So the finest club rugby in Canada. Those levels of the game can be as murky as a witch's cauldron, beset by mercenary players, disrespect and bad organisation. Not this one. Swingeing restrictions on foreigners ensure that the locals get to play their game in their country, nobody is paid - the chap I spent the most time talking to was quite adamant about that - if you don't go to training you've not got a hope of being selected, and these guys just love the game. They like to talk about it, to watch it, play it, and repeat in that order.

You don't get it everywhere by any means, so it's good to know that it exists somewhere. And to the chap who offered to swap hoodies - I am still awaiting your mail...

Loose Pass is written by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

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