Rugby Union: How change can make laws an asset

GRAHAM DAWE has been around the centres of contention in rugby union for long enough to have built up not just an understanding of the labyrinthine laws of the game but also to have thought out some practical amendments, designed to help keep the game on the move. The former Bath and England hooker is now on the Sale coaching team, although he still turns out in matches when needed. He says: "It's a different game from the one with which I first fell in love as a schoolboy. The game has been meddled with since it was invented, but that meddling has accelerated in the last decade, especially by Australia and New Zealand, as the administrators try to make it more spectator friendly." Now Dawe takes his turn at tinkering with the game. Some of his ideas are radical but Dawe feels that further changes must take place if the game is to progress. Here he explains to David Llewellyn the areas on which attention should be focused.

TACKLE

THIS season referees were asked to go for continuity of play as opposed to continuity of possession.

The problem arises in open play when the next man on the tackler's side arrives on the scene. He should be able to play the ball, therefore allowing continuity of play; but what is actually happening still is that referees are allowing the tackled man to buy time so that his support has a chance to arrive. This is fine in tight situations but not good for continuity of play in wide open spaces.

A player on the tackler's side should be able to come in from any direction and just play the ball unless, and until, a ruck is formed. As long as referees persist in ignoring the new instruction, i.e. allow continuity of play, confusion will reign.

OFFSIDE

THIS is the biggest disease in the game and gives no space to the half- backs.

The back-foot rule should be precisely that. The hindmost pair of feet demarcate the offside line, but to get rid of any doubts perhaps the offside line should be an area a further half metre behind the back foot.

But I think what is needed is a second referee, to call out to the defenders any time they go over the offside line. Or perhaps touch judges could be allowed to encroach on to the pitch on the open side, up to 15 metres, to communicate with the players.

It is no good the touch judges telling the referee; it is the players who need to know first, then they can correct the situation.

PENALTIES

OFFSIDE should be punished by a free-kick where the offence was committed.

The player should only be allowed to tap the ball to himself then pass, he should not be able to tap and run.

The player receiving the ball from the pass should have three options: run with the ball; secondly, kick for touch, but, if the ball goes straight into touch then the line-out goes to the other side, only if the ball bounces before finding touch does the line-out stay with the kicker's team; thirdly, if he is within range he should be able to have a go at a drop goal for the three penalty points.

This last option saves the time wasted bringing out the place-kicking tee. Defenders would be in two minds, watching for the touch kick, and trying to cover the break.

LINE-OUTS

THERE seem to be two rules operating at the moment. So far as the attacking side is concerned the line-out is over the moment the ball leaves the thrower's hands on its way to the jumper. This means the backs of the side throwing in, notably the fly-half, can, and will, move up some four or five metres, thus taking them that much nearer the gain line - which is everyone's object - before he gets the ball.

So far as the defending side is concerned the line-out is not over until it is over; the letter of the law would seem to apply, according to Law 23, the line-out ends when the ball has been passed, knocked back or kicked from the line-out. This law is just never refereed satisfactorily.

Again touch judges should be watching for the attackers moving up prematurely.

SIN BIN

WHERE a player is shown the white card for a technical offence, such as offside, killing the ball, or preventing release then no matter how many times he is shown a white card in the match he should only ever be sent to the sin bin. Sending off a player for an offence he may only have committed once, while the rest of his team may have infringed repeatedly, seems to me to be unfair.

A string of sin bin visits would severely disrupt his team's strategy. Teams should be made to take off a back when they want to replace a front- row forward who is sin-binned so that there are always eight specialist forwards on the pitch. At the moment the practice is to take off a flanker when a prop or hooker is sin-binned.

RUCK

PLAYERS are being penalised for diving in at a ruck, but all they are trying to do is secure possession. The laws state that players arriving at a ruck should straddle the ball, but that is dangerous. When defenders come flying in from all directions players trying to straddle the ball to set up a ruck are going to be smashed off it, and there would be a risk of being seriously injured. The lower the body position the safer the player is.

DRIVING MAUL

AN intrinsic part of the game. Get rid of the maul and you kill off something at the core of rugby. It's the hardest thing to execute and the hardest thing to defend. The most common way of stopping it appears to be by illegal means. Bringing down a maul is dangerous, but referees are just not policing them.

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