Richie McCaw, by common consent probably the best all-round rugby player in the world who leads New Zealand against Ireland this weekend in Dublin, consistently breaks the laws of the game, a former World Cup winning coach has claimed.
Australian Bob Dwyer outlined a calm, measured yet devastating indictment not just of McCaw’s play but of the referees whom, he alleged, allow the All Blacks captain to get away with it. Dwyer’s comments may be digested carefully by the 82,000 rugby fans heading for Croke Park for Saturday’s highlight of the autumn international programme, and South African match referee Mark Lawrence.
The 1991 World Cup winning coach has decades of experience of the game all around the world. He says frankly “In my view, Richie is a great player, probably the best in the world. He is an outstandingly good, talented player as was shown by his pick-up of the ball from a pass in Hong Kong for his second half try.
“But McCaw gets away with illegality partly because he has taken over the mantle of the No. 1 referee in the world from Sean Fitzpatrick. There is an absolutely widespread belief outside New Zealand that this is the case.
“We think he is allowed by referees to make his first point of entry (at the breakdown) at which he claims a shot at the opposition ball, from the side rather than going in through what is called ‘the rear gate’. He then swings the rest of his body around so he finishes up in an illegal position, shutting off any opponent from getting the ball. Illegally, he has denied the opposition a shot at possession. On your own ball, referees seem to allow this entry from the side.
“Just watch a game and see the number of people getting closed out from players entering from the side especially on their own ball.
“In every game, there are hundreds of pieces of evidence that show the team in possession is allowed to come in from the side.”
Dwyer’s comments come in the light of an edict issued by the IRB this week, re-iterating that there is a need to promote consistency and a fair contest for possession. Referees were reminded of their obligation to operate a zero tolerance policy towards illegal entry, hands in the ruck, sealing off the ball, illegal clearing out and illegal scrum feeds.
But the Australian countered “I have a few questions concerning this "directive".
Does the law concerning entry apply equally to the team in possession and the defending team? If so, what sanctions will apply to referees ignoring the directive - viz., ALL referees. Does the law concerning "sealing off the ball" apply to all teams, including NZ, who consistently, and even constantly, go over the ball en mass? At present, there seems to be some other, more private, directive to referees, which informs that none of these contents apply to Richie McCaw".
Dwyer scorns the suggestion that this situation exists because it has become impossible for any referee to see everything going on at the breakdown. “I think it’s pretty easy for the referee. It’s harder for him to see things away from the breakdown because his focus should be on the ball.
“The breakdown has become a shambles but it need not be if you insist on what the law says. If you stick the ball under your stomach and the ball doesn’t appear immediately, it is a penalty against you. This business about teams claiming they release the ball and it is under their body is absurd. That should be a penalty against them because all they’re doing by that is denying the opposition a chance at the ball. But referees especially in the northern hemisphere seem more tolerant about holding onto the ball.
“What concerns me is that the whole game is stagnating because these sorts of things are being allowed. The Italy/Australia game last weekend was abominable.
“I just feel the IRB should insist on what they preach. If they say the contest for the ball at the breakdown is equal for both teams, why don’t they insist on that ? They clearly don’t at the moment.”
Dwyer’s advice to Ireland is intriguing. “Moving the ball is entirely in line and supportive of the skills of the Ireland pack because they get around the field very well. They also assemble large numbers at the breakdown. You can do things with the ball close to the breakdown in a game where the opposition does not want to commit too many people to that area.”