Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Nervous breakdowns are the rule in NPC

Marty Banks was a ruthless goal-kicker. Photo / www.photosport.nz
Marty Banks was a ruthless goal-kicker. Photo / www.photosport.nz

Great job Tasman, you finally knocked the buggers off, as Sir Ed might have said about your victory against Auckland.

You played with abundant spirit and skill for your historic win in difficult conditions at Eden Park. You were on point and Marty Banks was a ruthless goal-kicker.

For various reasons, including an offshore jaunt, it had been a while since I'd watched a provincial game, so I decided to give the competition another crack. Maybe the rule changes would grow on me.

Maybe not. The alterations are designed to make the game simpler to understand, less congested at the breakdown, easier to referee, reducing injury and creating more tries. Apparently.

They have created a shambles instead and the opposite of what the lawmakers should be trying to discover.

Rugby's problem is the lack of space, because fewer people go to breakdowns while their team-mates fan out across the field in two lines.

It's deep in the provincial series, yet players are still bewildered when referees penalise them for some indiscretion at the breakdown. They are unsure what they can do and how the referees will react.

They stand about scratching at the ball, sometimes booting it through the ruck, which is going to cause halfbacks some real misery or driving through a breakdown and hoping they don't get penalised.

Players with the ball seem to hold the ball for seconds and, when the cavalry does not arrive, they pass it from the ground. That goes against everything which made sense about the tackled ball.

Once upon a time, when you were tackled, you had to let go of the ball.

It was not to be cradled, cuddled, have your autograph, go through several forward rolls and then placed where you liked it.

What's fair about tacklers being told by the ref to release opponents who then almost get up, might release the ball for a microsecond and then continue to crawl, run or roll up field?

As much as anyone, I loathe laws at test and Super Rugby level which allow players to charge into the breakdowns at an angle and clean out defenceless rivals. More players do go to those rucks, however, and have a chance of turning over possession - but not in the NPC.

How does rugby attract more players to rucks and give them and spectators a chance to understand the rules? It's as easy as Banks' kicking style.

As soon as the tackler and his victim hit the ground, they are out of play and cannot touch the ball. You can't place it, push it, hatch it, squeeze it or do any of the stalling tactics encouraged at the moment.

The ball is the offside line and it should be open slather for anyone wanting to grab it or heel it back, as long as they stay on their feet. We want a contest at the breakdown, we want to keep magnificent specialist No7s in the game but, right now, rucks are a dodgy lottery encouraging utility loose forwards.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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