3 Oct

Blowing the whistle on the whistle blowers
by Tracey Nelson
3 Oct 2006

A friend recently put forward the comment that the confusion and lack of consistency in rulings at the breakdown is a serious issue, and that someone needs to figure out a workable solution. Not surprisingly, it’s also come up for some discussion after the last Air New Zealand Cup round.
In my opinion there IS a workable solution. Referee the laws the way they are written. Currently, NZ referees are allowing players arriving at the breakdown to go in off their feet and not bind to another player. It is blatantly incorrect, yet they are allowing it to happen. As soon as a player comes in off their feet at a ruck it should be a penalty. Pure and simple.

If they penalised players going off their feet, we would have a lot more clarity at the breakdown. It would be very obvious when the tackler is on his feet and trying to play the ball, and whether or not the tackled player has released the ball immediately or is hanging on to it. At the moment there are too many instances of the tackler being legitimately on his feet and playing the ball, but then being pushed down by opposition players flopping all over him as they try to form a ruck.

A ruck forms when the ball is on the ground and one or more players from each team are on their feet over the ball, and at least one player is in physical contact with an opponent. The key words in the formation of a ruck are “players on their feet”. Apparently those words have mutated in the minds of referees, as it seems that it’s now perfectly legal for players to launch themselves into rucks with no attempt to bind or remain on their feet.

Inconsistent applications of the laws during games are also frustrating for both the players and spectators. One such example could be taken from the Canterbury-Auckland match midway through the second half:

A Canterbury player was tackled, and Devine and Carter arrived almost simultaneously at the breakdown. Devine was on his feet attempting to play ball as Carter tried to bind to him to form a ruck. A further player from each side also arrived a split second later and the ruck was formed just as the referee blew the whistle to award a penalty against the Canterbury player for not releasing the ball in the tackle.

Five minutes later an identical situation arose, with Devine once again the player on his feet attempting to wrestle the ball free just before the ruck formed, but this time he was told to take his hands off it. The two situations were almost indistinguishable, yet the rulings were poles apart as one was deemed a tackle situation yet the second was apparently a ruck despite the players being in exactly the same positions.

Little wonder then that the players (and public) are confused as to what they can and can’t do, when there is so much variation even within a game. Of course, this isn’t just limited to New Zealand, it’s a world-wide problem. Whilst the long-term solution seems to be the tweaking of the laws that are to come into being following the 2007 World Cup, in the meantime it would help if referees were directed to rule correctly to the laws and not allow players to go off their feet at the ruck.

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