White loves laws

Jake White believes the new laws will benefit South Africa’s Super 14 teams.

The most fascinating aspect of the new variations to the laws in this year’s Vodacom Super 14 will be how coaches respond to the uncertainty of it all, wrote White in the previous issue of SA Rugby magazine.

Another of the unknowns is just how significant the law changes will prove to be in defining individual positions. For example, will the function of the fullback change? Or that of the No 8? There will be more opportunities to scrum from the increased number of free kicks, therefore will the tighthead become even more significant when there is more emphasis on scrumming?
I’ve focused on three approved changes: inside the 22m line, the scrum and sanctions.

Inside the 22m line

The new law states that when a defending player receives the ball outside the 22m and passes, puts or takes the ball back inside the 22, the following can occur:

1. If the ball was subsequently kicked directly into touch, the line-out would be in line with where the ball was kicked.

2. If a tackle, ruck or maul was subsequently formed and the ball was then kicked directly into touch, the line-out would be where the ball crossed the touchline.

I believe some teams would simply take the risk of an additional phase of play to ensure there is a tackle or a ruck or a maul, and then the rule change won’t apply. The kicker would then be rewarded, as he is now, for where the ball went out.
Practically, it would mean that from a set phase, such as a scrum or line-out, the team couldn’t just win the ball and pass it back to the kicker to find touch.

In the line-out, they would maul for a phase and then make the pass to the kicker. This suits South African teams, who like to maul and also back themselves to contest the opposition line-out ball once it has been kicked out on the halfway line, for example.

At the scrum, the option would be to set up a runner to take contact and kick it out from
the next phase. Again, this favours our teams; the defensive line-out would remain strong because of our ability to contest.

All I can see changing is when a player, having taken a pass in his own 22, is isolated and looks for touch. Now he must kick it infield, and that benefits the flow of play and the attacking prospects of the ball receiver.

A long-range drop-kick specialist such as Frans Steyn could punish a bad line kick with three points. Equally, a good counterattacking fullback could be more prominent because there might be more opportunities.

Scrum

The new law states the offside line is 5m behind the hindmost foot of the scrum for players who are not in the scrum and who are not the team’s scrumhalf.

I think fewer back-row moves will be made because the 5m gap will mean that the defender won’t immediately have to commit to the tackle. Some coaches might get the No 8 to put the ball in, with the result that the No 9 – packing at No 8 – would pass to the No 8 who would then run at the opposition inside backs, which would create space to attack either side of the contact point.

Sanctions

The new law states that the sanction is a free kick for all offences other than offside, not entering through the gate and Law 10 foul play.

This will challenge any coach’s selections because he could either go for mobility or a strong scrum. If it is the latter, he could choose to scrum all day from the free-kick advantage, but the converse is that the opposition might believe their strength to be mobility and playing a game that does not emphasise set-piece play, such as the scrum.

The law caters for two differing styles, and it will be intriguing to see how they play out against each other. Equally, teams might use two similar styles, which could translate into either a fast-paced game or scrumming all day.

This law change is intended to speed up the game (by replacing penalties with free kicks), however, I think it has the potential to slow down the game, especially if a team wants to scrum. What counts in South Africa’s favour is that they have players capable of employing either style on the same day.

Read Jake every month in SA Rugby magazine. In the new issue he discusses the coaching appointments of Warren Gatland, Nick Mallett and Peter de Villiers