Rugby: New breakdown rules call for fast learning curve

By Campbell Burnes

Richie McCaw was another expert at breakdowns, so one wonders what the great openside flanker would make of the new laws. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw was another expert at breakdowns, so one wonders what the great openside flanker would make of the new laws. Photo / Getty Images

Turnover specialists will need to prove they are not just one-trick ponies during the Mitre 10 Cup, or they'll find themselves marginalised under the new breakdown/tackle trial laws.

So a player such as Wallaby No7 David Pocock, a breakdown expert, but not with a huge breadth to his game, need not apply.

It is called jackling and it is the art of making a tackle, then getting to your feet to strip the ball as the attacking side's teammates are hitting the ruck. Richie McCaw was another expert at it, so one wonders what the great openside flanker would make of the new laws. Doubtless he would have adapted.

The experts - players, coaches and referees - who have worked with it this season in club rugby or in provincial pre-season, all agree the game will be faster, with the new laws aiding the attacking team. Players will need to be even fitter, and teams may run up some big scores.

As Canterbury coach Scott Robertson opined, how can you now legally slow ball down at the breakdown?

How indeed? Perhaps by counter-rucking (a misnomer given there is little rucking in the game now) or counter-driving.

Referee Angus Mabey has ensured most of his season has been under the new laws, though he had to officiate outside his home union of Auckland, as it was one of six Mitre 10 Cup provinces that did not trial the new laws in club rugby.

Mabey took the whistle for the recent Waikato-King Country Ranfurly Shield clash. The holders had the advantage at the breakdown, having tested the laws in their club rugby.

"There's still some uncertainty as to what players can and cannot do at the breakdown, but with time they'll get used to the different interpretations and different definitions," says Mabey.

He says body positions will be higher at the breakdown but safety is the prime driver for the change.

"It's about slowing down and making a decision rather than flying in at a million miles an hour."

- NZ Herald

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