It seems a prudent time to have a little brush up on the offside laws under the ELVs, as there has been quite a bit of comment and confusion in recent weeks. Offside is still a penalty offence under the ELVs, but there are a few new quirks to it.
AT THE TACKLE
Under the ELVs there is now an offside line at the tackle. This is a horizontal line that extends across the width of the field cutting rough the centre of the tackle. Once a line break has been made, all defending players are potentially offside should the last man on defence make the tackle. For retreating defenders to be on-side, they must retire behind that tackle offside line before attempting to make a tackle themselves. A pass does not automatically put retreating defenders back on-side as it did under the old laws. Now the player in possession must run 5 metre or kick the ball before those retiring defenders can be put back on-side and make the tackle.
This was illustrated beautifully in the Chiefs v Stormers game last weekend, when Chiefs’ winger Lelia Masaga tackled Schalk Burger just before the goal line. The Stormers had breached the Chiefs’ defence down the left wing leaving the cover defence chasing them. Because a tackle was made and the ball carrier was brought to the ground, an offside line immediately formed. This meant that for Masaga to complete a legitimate tackle on Burger he would have had to first get behind the offside line and then turn to face Burger. Instead he pulled off a magnificent cover tackle from behind Burger which brought the flanker down before he could score the try – but unfortunately under the ELVs Masaga was tackling from an offside position. Referee Matt Goddard correctly awarded a penalty try, because due to the proximity of Burger to the goal line there was no way Masaga would have been able to retire on-side and make the tackle before Burger would have scored.
However, keep in mind that for a tackle to occur the ball carrier must be held and brought to the ground. If he is not brought to the ground it is not a tackle, therefore there is no offside line. So if that player is still on their feet and pops the pass to a team mate – it is still general play and in that case a retiring defender is legally allowed to make the tackle. So had the ball carrier offloaded before the tackle was made and the pass had gone to Burger, Masaga would not have been offside in his cover tackle. Equally had Burger run 5m or kicked the ball after the tackled player popped the pass up, Masaga would have been deemed to be on-side again.
AT THE RUCK AND MAUL
No changes here. The offside line remains the hindmost foot of the hindmost player. The not-so-new concept that is being more closely adhered to is The Gate. This requires players joining the ruck to enter through a zone directly behind the hindmost player and no wider than the width of the players already bound in the ruck. Entering a ruck incorrectly, or ‘not through the gate’ is a penalty offence. Likewise, joining a maul from the side and not directly from behind is also deemed as joining from an offside position, and is penalisable.
AT THE SCRUM
The new offside line from a scrum is now 5 metres back for both the attacking and defending backlines. Halfbacks also have a new offside law to abide to, which is they must remain within 1 metre of the scrum until the scrum is over (which is when the ball is out). This means that halfbacks cannot peel away and start running before the No 8 has his hands on the ballas they will be deemed as being offside. Flankers must remain bound (with the full arm) to the scrum until the ball is out or they will be ruled as being offside, which is no change from the pre-ELV laws.
AT THE LINEOUT
Both the receiver and defending hooker must be 2m from the lineout. No changes to the offside linefor players not involved in the lineout, they must still be 10m back from the Line of Touch (the imaginary line that runs down the centre of the lineout). They cannot move up from this offside line until the lineout is over – which is when the ball moves forward over that Line of Touch and a ruck or maul forms (so the offside line moves up to behind the hindmost foot), or the ball is thrown long beyond the 15m line, or the halfback passes it back.
See, it’s not really that hard to understand is it. So go forth and watch the games closely this weekend and see if you understand the offside line a little better now.