Super Rugby has been going for five weeks now but it is still hard to look away from the recent deeds of the Black Caps cricket team in a game more appropriate for this time of the year.
So, what has the revised Super Rugby format shown us from a rugby law perspective?
Sadly, it seems to more of the same from previous seasons.
By that I mean we are still seeing players entering the tackle and post tackle rucks from the side rather than from directly behind, troubles with tackling technique, some curious decisions from the TMO, and the one that annoys me the most – tackled players being allowed to do things contrary to the laws of the game.
I freely admit, I have watched only a handful of games, but I'm reasonably confident what I am seeing is being repeated in most, if not all, of the matches so far.
Ignoring other players involved at a tackle, let us focus on what the tackled player can and cannot do.
Assuming a tackle has occurred, when the ball carrier is held by one or more opponents and has been brought to the ground, the carrier must immediately do to one of the following actions.
1. He must immediately make the ball available so that play can continue.
He can do this by simply releasing (how often does this happen?), by passing the ball to anyone although preferably a team mate, or by pushing the ball in any direction except forwards.
2. He must immediately move away from the ball or get up, both of which are pretty well impossible in today's fast-moving game.
Tacklers and other arriving opponents will be trying to secure it from him legally.
Players from his team will be endeavouring to clear out any potential thieves while gathering around him to protect the ball in their possession.
That is what is supposed to happen at a tackle, especially when there can be a contest for possession.
The thing that frustrates me in these situations is the tackled player is often allowed to roll along the ground, sometimes three or four times, before setting himself up to play the ball.
Unless a fast-moving ball carrier is ankle tapped and momentum cause him to subsequently roll a few times when he hits the ground, I personally think one roll is an absolute maximum, and only if they find themselves facing their opponents goal line after the tackle.
By rolling several times, the ball carrier is trying to buy time for his support players to arrive and prevent opponents from contesting the ball.
This play should be penalised immediately – it would only take a few ruthless Super Rugby referees to stamp the practice out in a matter of weeks.
Another practise which needs to be eradicated from the game is tackled players crawling along the ground on their knees.
Again, this is usually done to buy time for team mates to arrive in support for the same reason as mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Worse than that, I have seen tries awarded to tacked players who have literally crawled their way to the goal line on their knees.
A player who is tackled short is allowed to reach out and ground the ball, but not after crawling along the ground.
Such a player is considered already tackled and must do one of the two things mentioned earlier.
A player tackled short of the goal line may also score a try if his momentum carries him over.
Momentum means he is still moving forwards after hitting the ground.
Once he stops moving momentum is over and he must comply with tackled law.
The only time I have seen these offences policed correctly was in the Reds versus Sharks match in Brisbane last week, when the Red prop was tackled short and then crawled his way to the goal line, only to be mortified when the referee correctly penalised him.
Goodness knows what would have happened if he had referred the decision to the TMO, but that topic can keep for another day.
Rugby is a game to be played by players on their feet.
If a player is on the ground, then that player is out of the game until he gets back on his feet.
Rolling or crawling along the ground is not permitted in the current laws of the game and never has been.
In writing the above I am not commenting on the refereeing as such, but rather highlighting what should be happening if the laws of the game were being followed with the intent the lawmakers had in writing them.
Players are actively coached to do the things they shouldn't be doing at the tackle and it is up to the referee to adjudicate fairly.
So far this season, only one correct decision out of at least three is not a good average.
The tackled players are well ahead.