Laws Made Simple

World Rugby have been busy bees this year. Usually there will be a couple of amendments to the laws of the game ahead of the next season, but for teams in the Northern Hemisphere, there are a whole lot of changes all coming together. Some of these you may already be familiar with as some have been trialled in the Southern Hemisphere since January (the Lions Tour went by these laws) but you may not have heard of the newer ones as they will only take effect below the equator at the start of the new year – though some of these were used during the recent U20s World Championship in Georgia.

Many of these law amendments are aimed to make the game simpler for fans, players and officials alike, but in some cases have they gone too far? Below are the law amendments as described on a Powerpoint presentation available from the World Rugby website, along with my thought on these amendments:

 

Definition – Possession – This happens when a player carrying the ball (or attempting to bring it under control) or the team has the ball in its control; for example the ball in one half of a scrum or ruck is in that team’s possession

I have no idea what the wording was before this amendment as this just seems like common sense to me!

Law 3.6 Number of Players – The Team – Uncontested scrums as a result of sending off, temporary suspension or injury must be played with 8 players per side

This seems fair to me. How often have we seen a dominant scrum negated due to uncontested scrums, giving less disadvantage to the team that should theoretically be getting punished for a yellow card. While the advantage in the scrum is still lost, this means that there should be an overlap for the attacking team’s backs to exploit.

Law 5.7(e) Time – If a penalty is kicked into touch after time has elapsed without touching another player, the referee allows the throw-in to be taken and play continues until the next time the ball becomes dead. To end the half, the ball must be tapped before the kick to touch

Personally, I love this amendment to the law as it gives a team chasing the game the choice of kicking a penalty to touch beyond 80 minutes to gain territory rather than having to run the ball the length of the pitch. In the past we have often seen teams defending a narrow lead willing to give away penalties deep in the opposition half as their opponents are forced to run the ball out, but now they will have to be more careful.

Players will have to be careful in the opening weeks of the season that they remember to tap the ball before kicking the ball out to finish the game – Conor Murray was caught out on the Lions tour this summer – but I imagine that we will only see this mistake a few times at most.

Law 8.1(a) Advantage – When there are multiple penalty infringements by the same team, the referee may allow the captain of the non-offending team to choose the most advantageous of the penalty marks

Much like the rule above, this is something I like as it forces teams to be more careful with their discipline whilst also allowing the team who have been impeded the option of which penalty to take, allowing them to better play to their strengths and the needs in that game (scrum, line-out, kick to touch). This may also encourage teams to use the advantage more, as even if they don’t score during it, they may win a more advantageous penalty.

Law 9.A.1 Method of Scoring – penalty Try. If a player would probably have scored a try but for foul play by an opponent, a penalty try is awarded. No conversion is attempted. Value: 7 points

Now this rule has come in, I’m surprised that it hasn’t been done sooner. Not only will this speed up the game, but it also removes the chance of an offending team being let off 2 points by a kicker slipping.

Law 15.4(c) Amended Tackle – The player must get up before playing the ball and then can only play from their side of the tackle gate

I can understand why this has been amended as often it could be difficult for both the tackler to determine if he could play the ball or if the ruck had already formed. Now it is clear that a player must come through the gate, there is no excuse for a player getting this wrong and will hopefully reduce what could often look to be somewhat of a grey area.

Law 16: Amended Ruck Law – A ruck commences when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (tackled player, tackler). At this point the offside line is created. A player on their feet may use their hands to pick up the ball as long as this is immediate. As soon as an opposition player arrives no hands can be used

I can understand why this has been changed as Italy’s no-ruck tactics against England caught out so many players and fans who were unaware of the law. However, I am not a fan of this at all as it feels like a reaction to Italy’s performance – and England’s inability to deal with it! While I am all for rugby being made easier to understand, the rule was actually quite clear-cut and it was a way that players could gain an advantage by knowing the laws and taking advantage of them.

What also interests me here is the wording that no hands can be used once an opposition player arrives. As it stands I don’t know if this means that they are allowed to keep hold of the ball if they already have hands on the ball, or if they must release the moment there is opposition.

Law 16.4: Other Ruck Offences – A player must not kick the ball out of a ruck. Sanction: Penalty kick. The player can only hook it in a backwards motion

This makes sense to me as this is effectively the same rule that we have in scrums. More importantly, this will improve player safety in the rucks. We have had instances in the past where players have suffered injuries after being caught by a player trying to kick the ball out, so hopefully we will see less incidents during games.

Law 18 Definition Mark – To make a mark a player must have one or both feet on or behind that player’s 22-metre line and catch a ball that has reached the plane of the 22-metre line

Law 19 Touch Definition – If the ball has passed the plane of touch when it is caught, then the catcher is not deemed to have taken the ball into touch. If the ball has not passed the plane of touch when it is caught or picked up, then the catcher is deemed to have taken the ball into touch, regardless of whether the ball was in motion or stationary. If a player jumps and knocks the ball back into the playing area (of if that player catches the ball and throws is back into the playing area) before landing in touch or touch-in-goal, play continues regardless of whether the ball reaches the plane of touch

Law 19.1(c) – No Gain in Ground – If a player, with one or both feet on or behind the 22-metre line, picks up the ball, which was outside the 22, or catches the ball in front of the 22-metre line and kicks it directly to touch from within the 22, then that player has taken the ball back inside the 2, so there is no gain in ground

Again these amendments make sense as they simplify things to ensure that the ball must cross the plane of the lines on the pitch under its own momentum. I quite liked players using their spacial awareness to catch a ball infield but with a foot already in touch to earn a line-out in good position, but this will make things so much easier for officials trying to catch up with play and with fans who are newer to the game.

Law 20.5 Throwing the ball into the scrum – No signal from referee. The scrum must be stable and there must be no delay once the ball has been presented to the scrum

Law 20.6(d) How the scrum-half throws in the ball – The scrum-half must throw the ball in straight, but is allowed to align their shoulder on the middle line of the scrum, therefore allowing them to stand a shoulder width towards their side of the middle line

Law 20 Striking after the throw-in – Once the ball touches the ground in the tunnel, any frontrow player may use either foot to try to win possession of the ball. One player from the team who put the ball in must strike for the ball. Sanction: Free-kick

Law 20.9(b) handling in the scrum – exception – allow the number 8 to pick the ball from the feet of the second-rows

Yet again, more changes to the scrum! However these changes I feel could have a positive impact. The ruling that there must be no delay with the feed will mean that the engagement of the front rows is no unnecessarily prolonged, which will also be helped by allowing any member of the front row to hook whilst penalizing a team for not attempting to hook when putting the ball in. There’s nothing I hate more at the scrum than both teams pushing against each other but not making any ground while the ball sits untouched in the tunnel, only or the scrum to eventually collapse as someone gives out – and I played prop so I can’t imagine how bad it is for other fans!

I also really like the number 8 being allowed to pick the ball up from within the scrum as it allows us to get on with play even if the scrum is going backwards at an alarming rate. Hopefully these rules lead to more rugby and less reset scrums/penalties.

Initially I didn’t like the new alignment of the scrum half when I first heard about it during the U20s World Championship, however the more I think about it, the more I have changed my view. The important thing here is that crooked feeds MUST be penalised, as this should be a way of giving the team putting in an advantage, whilst also making the scrum a fair contest.

Law 22.9(b) Defending Player in In-goal – If a player with one or both feet on or behind the goal line picks up the ball from within the field of play, or catches the ball in front of the goal line, that player has taken possession of the ball in the field of play

Law 22.9(d) Defending Player in In-goal – If a player with one or both feet on or behind the dead ball line picks up or catches a ball that has not reached the dead ball line, or touch-in-goal line, that player is deemed to have made the ball dead

These are basically an extension to the amendments in Laws 18 and 19 above, so I won’t bore you by saying the same thing again.

 

On the whole I am happy with these amendments, with the exception of what defines a ruck but I would be interested to hear your view on these changes. Do you think these amendments are the right way to go or are we simplifying the game too much? Are there any other laws you would like to see amended? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Premiership Rugby 2017/18: 7 to Watch

Last year I took a look at the new signings in the Premiership and picked a handful of players that I was looking forward to seeing at their new clubs. To say they had mixed success would be a bit of an understatement – though this was often due to injuries. I have decided to see if I can do a bit better this year with the players I am picking.

As with last year I have limited myself to a maximum of 1 player per club. I considered picking a player from each club but realised you’d probably get bored before the end, so have cut down my list to 6 players:

 

Liam Williams – Scarlets to Saracens

As if Sarries didn’t already have enough of this year’s Lions squad on their books last season, they have looked to replace Chris Ashton with Liam Williams from the Scarlets. Reliable at both fullback and on the wing, he may not have the same finishing ability of Ashton – though not many people do if we’re being honest – but he probably brings more to a counterattack. What will be interesting is to see whether he is used on the wing in place of Ashton or whether he kicks Alex Goode out of the 15 shirt, as this is arguably his better position. With players like Sean Maitland, Nathan Earle and Chris Wyles also available for the European Champions, it would not surprise me to see Williams moved around the back three to take advantage of different opposition.

D.T.H. van der Merwe – Scarlets to Newcastle

Another player on this list leaving Parc y Scarlets is Canadian winger D.T.H van der Merwe. A regular in the Pro12 for Glasgow and Scarlets, the winger had a fantastic World Cup in 2015, scoring 4 tries despite Canada finishing bottom of their pool. The Falcons surprised a lot of people last season and have signed well this summer, so I expect them to be even more dangerous in 2017/18. Even with Marcus Watson off to Wasps, there is some strong competition on the wings, but I fully expect the Canadian to push Sinoti Sinoti and Vereniki Goneva for the starting places and bag a number of tries along the way.

Jason Woodward – Bristol to Gloucester

In August 2016, Jason Woodward started the Hurricane’s Super Rugby Final victory on the left wing ahead of All Black regular Julian Savea. In April 2017, his Bristol side were confirmed as being relegated from the Premiership with 2 matches to spare. Now moving back to Gloucester (he spent a couple of years at Hartpury College) the English-qualified Kiwi will be looking to get back to the highs of last year. His time at Hartpury means that he also has experience playing with a number of the Gloucester team from when they were coming through the ranks, so he will not be coming into a completely new environment as most new transfers would be. There is already good strength in the Gloucester back three – May, Sharples and Marshall are a dangerous combination when all available – but Woodward’s ability to play across the back three and at outside centre will likely make him a regular in the 23 – even if he is not always starting – and will also allow Johan Ackermann some tactical flexibility.

Freddie Burns – Leicester to Bath

The prodigal son is going home. After spending his senior rugby career at local rivals Gloucester and then Leicester, George Ford’s return to Tigers has seen Burns go back to his hometown club. Burns is an exciting attacking fly half who has matured with experience and I’m sure he will be pushing Rhys Priestland for the starting spot. At only 27, Burns still has plenty of years ahead of him and you could even argue that he is only just entering his prime. With a strong pack in front of him and options in the back line, I fully expect him to shine in Bath colours. I just really hope that when they play Gloucester, he and younger brother Billy are both given starts at 10 to add an extra rivalry to the derby.

Piers Francis – Blues to Northampton

I doubt I was the only person who saw the announcement that he had signed for Saints and thought Who?! That’s part of the reason that he has made his way onto this list. Already with experience in the Greene King IPA Championship, Pro12, ITM Cup and Super Rugby, he also featured in both of this summer’s England Tests against Argentina, so he clearly knows his way around a rugby pitch even if he has not played in the Premiership before. He’s also spent the last couple of years being coached by All Black legend Tana Umaga – not a bad ex-pro to learn off! His ability to play fly half or centre will allow him to be moved around the back line in much the same way Harry Mallinder has been in recent years, and I think that he will eventually begin to replace Stephen Myler in the starting lineup as the season goes on.

George Ford – Bath to Leicester

Having included Burns and Francis, I couldn’t really leave out the current England number 10. People who know me well will know that I have not yet been won over by George Ford. He is a clearly talented player but, much like Danny Cipriani, I haven’t seen enough consistency to be sold on him. He seems to need a pack giving him good front-foot ball (like he gets with England) and generally his best performances have come when he has a fellow playmaker in the centre (Eastmond, Farrell, Slade, Lozowski etc). Unless Matt Toomua can stay fit, there do not appear to be many players of this ilk in the Tigers squad, so I will be very interested to see how he performs this year. If he can have a great season without the safety blanket outside him, this could very easily be the year he wins me over.

Petrus du Plessis – Saracens to London Irish

Who said this list needed to be just flashy backs? Forwards are equally important to the game, if not more so. Yes, I’m a former prop. No, this does not invalidate my opinion. The classic phrase is that the forwards win the match and the backs decide by how much. With the way that scrums go in modern rugby, this has probably never been truer. A dominant scrum will win penalties all game long, putting that team in better field position and allowing them to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Du Plessis is a highly experienced prop and that experience will be vital to London Irish as they look to avoid an immediate return to the Championship. They already have a number of talented props in Ben Franks, Gordon Reid and Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, so adding the South African to the list gives the Exiles a very strong scrum on paper that will give them every chance of being competitive.

 

Obviously this is by no means a comprehensive list, some clubs have made 3 or 4 signings that could have been on this list. So I put the question to you: which of your club’s new signings are you most looking forward to?

No Serena? No Problem!

If 100 people were asked to name the best female tennis player of recent years, I doubt many would name someone other than Serena Williams. The 35-year-old America is arguably the face of modern women’s tennis – and with good reason!

Her current haul of 39 Grand Slam titles – 23 singles, 14 women’s doubles and 2 mixed doubles – puts her third overall in the all-time list for women’s tennis and her 319 weeks as World number 1 in the WTA rankings over the course of her career puts her third on the list of women during the Open era. She is only 1 title away from equalling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam tournament singles titles – and you wouldn’t bet against her beating it! You have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a year where Serena failed to win a Grand Slam singles title and even further (2006) to find the last year she did not feature in a Grand Slam singles final!

However, Serena will not be winning any more titles this year as she announced in April that she would miss the remainder of the season as she begins the next greatest adventure in her life: motherhood.

I’m sure that many people will be worried that losing Serena for the best part of a year will be a big hindrance to women’s tennis. However, while I agree she will be missed, I think this could actually be great for the sport. This is nothing against Serena, but I feel that this could actually open up the competition and make it more exciting.

If we look at the last 10 Grand Slams Serena has competed in, she has 6 titles, 2 losses in the final and 2 losses in the semis. Over these same 10 tournaments, we had 9 different finalists (including Serena). In just the 2 Grand Slam finals since her break began, we have had 4 different Grand Slam finalists: Jelena Ostapenko and Simona Halep in the French Open and Garbine Muguruza and Venus Williams (Serena’s sister) at Wimbledon. Halep (2) is the only one of these finalists to be ranked in the top WTA World Rankings, despite Muguruza and Ostapenko having both won Grand Slams in the last 2 years. Muguruza’s opponent in her Wimbledon semi-final, Magdalena Rybarikova is currently down at number 87 in the WTA rankings. Clearly, there is strength in depth in the women’s game.

As great as this depth is, to have someone as dominant as Serena has been in recent years means that many casual fans may see the result as a foregone conclusion and decide not to pay so much attention. However with Serena out, this is the chance for other competitors to stake their place at the top of their rankings and in the later rounds of tournament. Suddenly the question goes from ‘How much will Serena win by?” to “Who will win?” and this can only be good for the sport. Girls will see that there are multiple playing styles all capable of earning a victory, so may result in more girls getting into the sport who would not have the power to emulate Serena’s style.

Age catches up with everyone eventually, so while the sport may be missing its superstar right now, this is the chance to create a number of new household names to propel women’t tennis forwards over the next decade.

Lions 2017: The Review

The Lions tour of 2017 is now over. An enthralling trip to New Zealand ended with the Lions winning 5 games, losing 3 and drawing 2, including the deciding third Test to end the Test series in a 1-1 tie.

Right from the moment the initial touring party was named, there have been controversies all the way through to the final minutes of the last Test. There were also a number of big individual performances, some from players we’d expect but many from players who many fans likely didn’t expect to have a big part on the tour, especially in the Tests.

As we begin to look ahead to the 2021 tour of New Zealand, I felt it right to say goodbye to the tour with a look back at what has happened this summer and a couple of suggestions as to what I feel should happen in future tours.

My individual match write-ups:

  1. Win v New Zealand Provincial Barbarians 7-13
  2. Loss v Blues 22-16
  3. Win v Crusaders 3-12
  4. Loss v Highlanders 23-22
  5. Win v Maori All Blacks 10-32
  6. Win v Chiefs 6-34
  7. Loss v New Zealand 30-15
  8. Draw v Hurricanes 31-31
  9. Win v New Zealand 21-24
  10. Draw v New Zealand 15-15

The coaches

While the Lions forwards did not always have their own way in the Tests, on the whole they did seem to have an advantage in the pack. I feel that both Steve Borthwick and Graham Rowntree both come away from this tour looking good, especially Borthwick. Borthwick is still relatively new to coaching a top-tier nation, having joined England alongside Eddie Jones in late 2015, so if he continues to improve I think he has a great chance of being involved with the 2021 tour.

Though a couple of the kickers struggled with the Adidas ball early in the tour, Owen Farrell really seemed to improve his success percentages as the tour reached the crucial last couple of Tests, which eventually proved the difference in the second and third Tests. To my memory, Leigh Halfpenny was the only Lion not to miss a kick at goal during this tour and Dan Biggar also had one of the better kicking percentages, so I feel this shows the importance Neil Jenkins had on this tour. Will he make the trip to South Africa in 4 years? It will probably depend in part as to which kickers are in the squad but he’s certainly got the experience.

Of all the Lions coaches, I feel that Andy Farrell comes out looking best. There were a number of times when the Lions defence held impressive attacking lineups to a low number of points. In the Tests, especially the third Test, Farrell made good use of the blitz defence to minimise the effect of the crash ball on the Sexton/Farrell channel and also put the All Blacks under heavy pressure, leading to a number of uncharacteristic mistakes. If the defence had not been so impressive, the All Blacks could have legitimately finished with a 3-0 whitewash. I think a lot of teams will have been taking note of Farrell’s defensive tactics ready for when they play the All Blacks. Much like Borthwick, if he can continue to impress over the next few years I expect to see him involved in 4 years.

Though the Lions did start to score a few more tries as the tour wore on, I feel that the attack was on the whole a real disappointment. In many of the matches, the Lions left too many chances on the field, and I cannot even remember them creating anything resembling a try-scoring opportunity in the last Test. This reflects badly on Rob Howley, who also didn’t impress in charge of Wales for the 6 Nations this year.

Warren Gatland may have orchestrated an unlikely series draw in New Zealand to go with his 2-1 victory in Australia 4 years ago, but I feel there were too many controversies relating to his decisions on this Tour. I am not a big fan of Gatland, as I feel his Warrenball tactics are outdated yet he has not made much effort to evolve them. When you consider the Lions needed a late – and somewhat controversial – penalty to beat an All Blacks side that spent over half the game a man down in the second Test, you could say that Gatland is extremely lucky to not be the only Kiwi disappointed at a New Zealand series victory. There were also a number of selection controversies that were surely heightened by his involvement with the Welsh national team, as a number of times the Welsh players appeared to be preferred both in the 41-man touring party and in the 23-man squads if there was a 50/50 decision to make. Even worse was his decision to call up 6 nearby players partway through the tour – including preferring a couple of Welsh players who could not even be considered squad regulars for Wales ahead of internationals who impressed in the 6 Nations and were considered extremely lucky not to make the initial 41 – only to then make an abrupt U-turn after seeing the public reaction and decide not to play the ‘Geographic 6’ unless there was no other choice. Personally I would not like to see Gatland or Howley involved with the 2021 tour, and also feel Wales will benefit from replacing both coaches at the end of their current contracts.

While I have no problem with the assistant coaches coming from the Home Nations national teams, as this will help the chemistry of the squad, I personally feel that the Head Coach at least should be a neutral as opposed to one of the Home Nations coaches. My preference would be to have a British/Irish head coach, though I appreciate there may not always be someone with enough experience for this role. Looking ahead to 2021, Eddie Jones has already suggested that he will leave his position with England after the 2019 World Cup, so I can see the Lions looking to bring him in to lead the tour of South Africa, but I will also be interested to see the development of international coaches like Gregor Townsend and Conor O’Shea over the next few years.

The schedule

With the increasing focus on player welfare in an already long season, it is always going to be difficult to get the scheduling right for a Lions Tour. Without even counting clubs releasing players in the buildup to their European Cup finals for the Messy Monday meeting of the Lions squad, there were some clear problems with the scheduling of this tour.

The performance against the provincial Barbarians was so poor, jet lag was commonly used as an excuse, due to the Lions having only arrived in New Zealand mere days earlier. Considering the players involved in their domestic league finals were never going to be involved in the first game – in fact Gatland tried to not even use players who had been involved in the semi-finals either – it would have made more sense to me for the majority of the squad to fly out a week earlier, with any remaining players making the trip out once their club commitments were over.

The suggestions are that the South Africa tour will contain fewer games, and while I initially thought these games were required to help find the right 23 for the Tests, I wonder if less games but more consistently challenging could be better. I feel the Lions could also be used as a way to give extra experience to lower-tier nations. For 2021, I would love to see a game against the Barbarians, 1 or 2 against Namibia and a couple of games against South Africa A and/or a ‘Super Rugby All-stars’ made up of the best available players from the South African Super Rugby franchises.

There has also been talk of including a test against Argentina as a warm-up game. While I agree they deserve a chance to play the Lions and appreciate there probably isn’t enough of an infrastructure yet to host an entire Lions tour, I would not be against a tour of the Americas, with the main test series being against the Pumas but also games against nations from the Americas Rugby Championship (USA, Canada, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile) as this would be good international experience for teams not yet in the top-tier and would also be good to improve the hype and visibility of rugby in these countries.

Player of the Tour

He may not have featured much outside of the Tests but Jonathan Davies gets my vote. In the 6 Nations I was not at all impressed and felt that the injury to Huw Jones and poor performances of Jonathan Joseph were the only factors putting him in contention of a place in the squad. However playing for Scarlets in the playoffs of the Pro12 he looked absolutely fantastic.

Not used until the third game against the Crusaders, a head injury saw him come off in the first half but in that time he had already done enough to show that he was the best option at 13 for the Tests and had worked well with Ben Te’o. During the Tests he was often heavily involved in the Lions’ best attacking play, but he was also an important part of the defence and caused the New Zealand backs no end of trouble in the third Test. I bet Jordie Barrett is still seeing him in his nightmares!

Team of the Tests

I am basing this purely on the 3 Test matches, so though Reiko Ioane was impressive in the first Test and for the Blues, he misses out here due to his quiet second Test and his non-involvement in the tour finale.

  1. Joe Moody
  2. Jamie George
  3. Tadhg Furlong
  4. Maro Itoje
  5. Brodie Retallick
  6. Sam Warburton
  7. Sean O’Brien
  8. Kieran Read
  9. Aaron Smith
  10. Beauden Barrett
  11. Elliot Daly
  12. Owen Farrell
  13. Jonathan Davies
  14. Israel Dagg
  15. Liam Williams

 

What are your thoughts on the tour? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Eyes On: New Zealand v British and Irish Lions – Third Test

What an 80 minutes of rugby! With the Test series tied at 1-1, the entire Northern Hemisphere rugby season had been building to the series-deciding final Test… which ended up deciding nothing! Though the All Blacks crossed for 2 tries, the metronomic kicking of Owen Farrell and the monster boot of Elliot Daly kept the Lions (who never created a try-scoring chance of note) in the game and some last-ditch Lions defending held the All Blacks just short in referee’s time to end the game 15-15 and end the series in a tie. While this felt like something of an anti-climax, the game itself was a fantastic affair and even though I knew the result by the time I was able to watch (I was at work when the game was played), I was still completely hooked on the game.

With the series now over, it feels odd not having to predict the next Test team, but I still wanted to carry on the tradition of putting pen to paper (finger to keyboard?) on my big thoughts from the game.

 

Controversy again

Ken Owens in my opinion is a very luck boy. At the final restart of the game with mere minutes left, Liam Williams fumbled the kick-off under pressure from Kieran Read and the ball bounced into the arms of the Welsh hooker, who was making his way back from an offside position. Romain Poite initially gave a penalty for offside and appeared to stick to this decision after speaking to the TMO, but by the time he spoke to the captains, he had changed his mind and ruled it an accidental offside, resulting in a New Zealand scrum that Rhys Webb was able to turn over.

The sections of World Rugby’s laws that would be applicable here is as follows:

11.6 Accidental offside

(a)

When an offside player cannot avoid being touched by the ball or by a team-mate carrying it, the player is accidentally offside. If the player’s team gains no advantage from this, play continues. If the player’s team gains an advantage, a scrum is formed with the opposing team throwing in the ball.

(b)

When a player hands the ball to a team-mate in front of the first player, the receiver is offside. Unless the receiver is considered to be intentionally offside (in which case a penalty kick is awarded), the receiver is accidentally offside and a scrum is formed with the opposing team throwing in the ball.

11.7 Offside after a knock-on

When a player knocks-on and an offside team-mate next plays the ball, the offside player is liable to sanction if playing the ball prevented an opponent from gaining an advantage.

Sanction: Penalty kick

To be fair to Poite, this does leave a grey area that I feel this incident has fallen into, as it was almost impossible for Ken Owens to avoid the ball, however on viewing, he did appear to initially grab for the ball – a reflex action in my opinion – and then let go the moment he realised he was offside. Going on similar previous incidents, my opinion is that had the ball simply bounced onto Owens then a scrum for accidental offside would have been fair. However by actively grabbing the ball, even for a moment, he has played the ball so it should have been a penalty. We will never know for certain whether Beauden Barrett would have been successful with the kick (he finished 2 from 4 on the day) however the penalty was in such a good position I feel it would have been the game winner.

Next off the conveyor belt…

Among the changes that Steve Hansen made for this third Test were the introduction of the inexperienced Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett tot the starting XV. Jordie especially had a mixed game, with some great moments like his involvement in both New Zealand tries, but he was also put under a lot of pressure by the Lions’ defence (more on that later). I have faith that he will improve with more experience and he certainly looks like a player for the near future.

Laumape, however, looks like a player for right now! After his impact (literally in many cases) on the Hurricanes game and the second Test, I was not surprised to see the Hurricanes centre given the 12 shirt in place of the suspended Sonny Bill Williams. After the way he played, I wonder how easy it will be for Williams to earn the shirt back. He may not be the fastest, as we saw when Jonathan Davies was able to chase him down, but he makes up for it with his strong direct running – just ask Dan Biggar! He read the intentions of both Barrett brothers to take his try well on 15 minutes, and his part in the second try just before half time could only be described as Williams-esque: drawing in both Farrell and Davies to make the tackle on the second phase, before offloading the ball while on the way down to Anton Leinert-Brown who duly put Jordie Barrett over. At 24, he will just be starting to hit his prime, and to play regularly alongside so many All Blacks for the Hurricanes will only improve the chemistry of the national team’s back line.

Lions defence

In the Disney film Remember the Titans, during a stirring team-talk with his defence, assistant coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton) tells them “I don’t want them to gain another yard! You blitz all night!” I get the feeling the Lions were given a similar speech pre-game. While Sam Warburton led the harassing of the breakdown, the Lions defensive line were constantly up in their opponents’ faces as quickly as possible, forcing them into a number of mistakes that you would not usually expect from the All Blacks. Passes were off target, catches were fumbled and kicks were put out on the full, most notably from Jordie Barrett who was frequently targeted by Jonathan Davies. As I worried about earlier in the tour, there were a couple of occasions where Beauden Barrett took advantage of the narrow blitz defence with cross-kicks. Luckily for the Lions, their pacy back 3 were fast enough to recover and then willing to put their bodies on the line to make the necessary tackle (Liam Williams becoming a human speed bump for Julian Savea sticks in my mind). When next series of Test matches comes around for New Zealand, it will be interesting to see if their opponents try to emulate the Lions’ defensive tactics.

 

What were your thoughts on the final Test? Do you think I missed anything? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Disciplinary Problems? Cavendish v Sagan

So this is something I’ve contemplated writing since Peter Sagan’s disqualification from the Tour de France, but due to my relative inexperience in this sport – it was only during last year’s Tour that I became a regular viewer of the Grand Tours – I was unsure if it was right to do so. However I have decided to write about it as I feel it needs looking into.

 

By now, many people will have seen the dramatic end to Stage 4 of this year’s Tour de France, where Arnaud Démare’s first ever stage victory on a Grand Tour was relegated to being a side-note next to discussions of Mark Cavendish’s crash and Peter Sagan’s disqualification for his part in the incident. Sagan was initially docked 30 seconds and 80 points in the battle for the green jersey, but this punishment was later upgraded to disqualification as he “endangered some of his colleagues seriously.” Cavendish meanwhile, has been forced to leave the tour with a broken shoulder.

My personal opinion is that the initial punishment would have been sufficient. It looked to me that Sagan was simply following the drift of all the racers in the bunch split and attempting to get on Démare’s wheel, unaware that Cavendish – who was behind him – was already in that position. Yes there was a question of his use of an elbow and while some camera angles do make it look bad, others suggest that the elbow was out merely to help him keep his balance. I feel that the punishment has been unduly influenced by the injury to Cavendish.

It is clear that the UCI are trying to improve safety in the bunch sprints – they now allow a 3-second gap between riders on flat stages before they award a slower finishing time, meaning that General Classification riders and teams are not so in the way of the sprinters – and I get the feeling that they will look to reinforce this by being strict on any issues from the bunch sprints. However by that logic, Démare is surely deserving of some punishment as his changes of direction in the same sprint looked far worse and more dangerous than Sagan.

What really surprised and disappointed me, however, was the way that the race commissaires who made the decision to disqualify Sagan did not contain a former racer. In an event like a bike race, there is always an inherent risk, especially in a bunch sprint, so to me a former racer’s perspective should be required to help decide if a crash is simply a racing incident or something more serious.

If we look at another racing sport – Formula 1, they have some very specific rules relating to their officials. From their website I found the following information:

  • At every Grand Prix meeting there are seven key race officials who monitor and control the activities of the stewards and marshals to ensure the smooth and safe running of the event in accordance with FIA regulations.
  • Five of the seven officials are nominated by the FIA. These are the race director (currently Charlie Whiting), a permanent starter and three additional stewards, one of whom is nominated chairman and one of whom is an experienced former driver. The additional stewards must be FIA Super Licence holders.
  • The other two key officials are nominated by the National Sporting Authority (ASN) of the country holding the race. These are the clerk of the course and an additional steward (who must be a national of the host nation). Both must be FIA Super Licence holders.

Notice how of the 7 race officials in F1, at least 5 must be FIA Super Licence holders, a qualification that allows that person to race in F1 Grands Prix. This means that when any incident is looked at during the race, the drivers know that there will be people making a decision who know exactly what is going on at that moment from the point of view of the racers and know exactly what can and can’t be expected from a racer in such a circumstance. It’s not that often that the former racers in the F1 commentary are surprised by the official’s decisions at it also allows them to explain to the armchair fan what will be considered and taken into account about the accident.

I’m not asking the UCI to make as drastic a change as to make the majority of the commissaires former riders, however it is my opinion that they need to have at least one former rider involved in any decisions.

As it is, we have lost 2 great racers for the remaining 2 and a half weeks of the Tour and the green jersey – which has been won by either Cavendish or Sagan each of the last 6 years – is certainly up for grabs. It will be interesting to see where things go from here.

 

What are your thoughts on the incident and the disciplinary procedure? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Lions 2017: The Final 23

The last year of rugby culminates in this weekend’s big match: the series-deciding (and series-defining) third Test between the British and Irish Lions and the New Zealand All Blacks.

After a demoralising 30-15 loss in the first Test, the Lions took advantage of Sonny Bill Williams’ first half red card to draw the series level with a 24-21 victory. Williams’ 4-week ban means that Steve Hansen will be forced into making a change at 12 – possibly a first start for Ngani Laumape of the Hurricanes – after having already lost Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty to injury in the first Test. Waisake Naholo also failed a HIA in the second Test but I have not heard anything to suggest that he will be ruled out of the final Test. The Lions have been fairly lucky with injuries on this tour, however they have lost Stuart Hogg, Ross Moriarty, Robbie Henshaw and George North as the weeks have passed. Jared Payne has also been struggling throughout the tour, first with calf injuries and then in recent weeks with headaches. They did receive a boost, though, with the news that Sean O’Brien will receive no punishment for his part in Naholo’s head injury.

On my recent write-ups of the Lions games, I have tried to predict the 23 man squad for the next Test. As this will be the last time I do so for this tour, I decided to do something a little different. As well as predicting Gatland’s selections, I will also be showing the 23 I would pick if I was in his position. Obviously many of the positions will be the same, but there will also be some differences that could drastically affect the way the Lions play.

My Lions 23:

  1. Jack McGrath
  2. Jamie George
  3. Tadhg Furlong
  4. Maro Itoje
  5. Iain Henderson
  6. Sam Warburton
  7. Sean O’Brien
  8. Taulupe Faletau
  9. Conor Murray
  10. Owen Farrell
  11. Elliot Daly
  12. Ben Te’o
  13. Jonathan Davies
  14. Anthony Watson
  15. Liam Williams
  16. Ken Owens
  17. Mako Vunipola
  18. Kyle Sinckler
  19. Courtney Lawes
  20. Peter O’Mahony
  21. Rhys Webb
  22. Johnny Sexton
  23. Jack Nowell

My predicted Lions 23:

  1. Jack McGrath
  2. Jamie George
  3. Tadhg Furlong
  4. Maro Itoje
  5. Alun Wyn Jones
  6. Sam Warburton
  7. Sean O’Brien
  8. Taulupe Faletau
  9. Conor Murray
  10. Johnny Sexton
  11. Elliot Daly
  12. Owen Farrell
  13. Jonathan Davies
  14. Anthony Watson
  15. Liam Williams
  16. Ken Owens
  17. Mako Vunipola
  18. Kyle Sinckler
  19. Courtney Lawes
  20. Iain Henderson
  21. Rhys Webb
  22. Ben Te’o
  23. Jack Nowell

 

In both these squads, Mako Vunipola drops to the bench in favour of Jack McGrath. The coaches have already mentioned the importance of discipline – had Beauden Barrett been more accurate with his goal kicking, this weekend’s game would be a dead rubber – and Vunipola gave away almost a third of the Lions penalties, including a stupid late hit on Barrett and the illegal clean out that earned him a yellow card. His talent and his ability in the loose will keep him in the squad, but I see McGrath being given the chance to get at the All Blacks scrum from the start.

In the second row, Maro Itoje has to start, but there is a tough fight for the number 5 shirt. Alun Wyn Jones had a much better second Test and brings a lot of experience to the pack – which I think will give him the start in Gatland’s squad – but I worry that he could struggle if the game becomes as open as the first Test. Courtney Lawes has played well when given the chance but I feel that he will be kept as reinforcements from the bench. His yellow card aside, Iain Henderson was one of the best performers against the Hurricanes and brings a great combination of strength and dynamism tot he side. In my 23, I have paired the Ulsterman with Itoje, with Courtney Lawes ready to come on from the bench. Gatland has surprised us with at least 1 selection for each Test (Williams at 15 for the first, Farrell at 12 for the second) and I feel that the selection of Henderson on the bench alongside Courtney Lawes will be his surprise this time. His selection of Stander over O’Mahony last week suggests that the captain of the first Test has fallen down the pecking order, despite Stander having not had the best of tours. Itoje, Lawes and Henderson all have experience of playing 6 at international level so I think Gatland may pick two of them on the bench to give him more options inboth the second row and back row.

In the backs, I expect Gatland to stick with the Sexton/Farrell axis that won at the weekend, however I feel that this leaves the Lions too lightweight in the centre with players like Jerome Kaino, Naholo, Laumape and Ardie Savea likely to attack the 10/12 channel on a regular basis. Before going off in the second Test, Kaino had already successfully ran over the top of Farrell to make extra metres and as Laumape grew into the game, he and Savea were having some success making metres through the centre of the Lions defence. I therefore decided to pick Te’o at 12 to combat the All Blacks’ physicality, as he did when he kept Sonny Bill Williams marshalled in the first Test. Having a runner as strong as him in the back line also gives the Lions extra options in attack.

 

Regardless of the 23 men that Warren Gatland picks, you can be sure that they will be fired up and looking to do everything they can to win the series 2-1. Good luck to them!

 

What do you think of the squads? How do you feel each would do in the third Test? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge