Law change in the pipeline
March 10, 2010
Should Wales have been given time to snatch a dramatic victory over Scotland in their Six Nations clash last month? © Getty Images
My suggestion that free-kicks should be treated as penalties so that it is impossible to kick the ball dead from a restart has prompted quite a response especially since the Wales v France game where the French, perhaps mindful of what had happened to Scotland, booted the ball off the park after Shane Williams' last gasp try and lifted their arms in triumph.
A number of people were outraged that France were allowed to get away with it but it is yet another example of how the laws of the game are simply not fit for purpose in the modern era.
Dave Broadwell, the Rugby Football Union's Referee Development Manager (and renowned for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the laws) summed it up saying, 'the law is a grey area and it is not DIRECTLY covered.'He is so concerned that he has tabled this whole area of law as an agenda item for the next RFU Laws Committee Meeting which takes place this week.
Interestingly, he believes the restart against Scotland should never have happened at all because time had expired by the time Stephen Jones got back to half-way to drop out even though there were a few seconds left after the conversion.
There was definitely time for the restart in the French match and nobody had any doubt about Frederic Michalak's intentions. He very deliberately kicked the ball into touch short of the 10 metre line so that Wales could not regain possession.
'Did they infringe Law 10.2 - intentionally offending?' asks Broadwell '(a player must not intentionally in fringe any law of the game).
'The dilemma for the referee is how can you judge that? Had the restart been taken and the ball just drifted out on the wind could you adjudicate it was a breach of Law 10?'
I would argue that nobody could possibly have any doubts about Michalak's intentions in this particular case. I am also certain that, back in the amateur days, a referee such as Gwyn Walters, who insisted on wearing a blazer and presided over matches like a benevolent headmaster would have declared his action as 'not in the spirit of the game' and given a penalty to Wales on the centre spot.
But those days are long gone so Broadwell agrees that, 'this scenario needs to be specifically written in law.'
He suggests a simple additional paragraph to Law 5 would do the trick, something like, 'When a restart has been awarded and time has expired that restart must be completed within the relevant laws pertaining to restarts.' That would do for me.
There were hopes that the IRB might address the problem quickly but in the absence of that Broadwell believes the RFU Laws Committee will probably support a motion asking for a ruling along these lines to be brought in immediately. Watch this space.
Wales have surely now learned their lesson so will, hopefully, not be involved in needing to count the seconds again. They desperately need a result against Ireland but the odds are against them. So far we have seen some wonderful running from the Welsh backs but the lack of a forward platform has been really worrying and now they have lost skipper, Ryan Jones, as well.
There might be a temptation to throw caution to the wind because they have nothing to lose but they really need to show some poise and patience. The Irish scrum is not great so they should not be too exposed and, unlike any of the other games so far, the aim has to be to go into the last quarter on level terms so that they can use their talented runners as everything opens up.
England need more than a result in Edinburgh - they need a performance. Only a convincing victory with a couple of tries will save their season.
We know Scotland will be dogged and difficult to beat but against Italy they showed how limited they are particularly behind the scrum. I cannot see England losing - if they do it could be the end for Martin Johnson - but they have to do more than just dominate and kick their way to victory. They really should throw caution to the wind.
English supporters - and the players - need some excitement!
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and a regular contributor to ESPNscrum.com