Simon Borchardt

Rugby must take breakdown 'medicine'

The new breakdown law variations were the biggest talking point of the opening Super Rugby Aotearoa match in Dunedin on Saturday.

New Zealand’s domestic franchise tournament is the first to apply World Rugby’s breakdown guidelines, which were announced in March.

They aim to make the most complex area of the game easier to play, coach and officiate, while creating faster attacking ball and a fairer contest.

Key focal points include:

  • Ball-carriers are allowed only one dynamic movement after being tackled. Crawling, or any secondary movement other than placing or passing, will be penalised.
  • Tacklers are expected to roll away immediately in the direction of the sideline.
  • There is 'extra focus' on the offside line, with defenders expected to be 'clearly' onside to provide attacking teams more space.

However, judging from Saturday’s stop-start match, it’s going to take time for the players to adapt.

Referee Paul Williams awarded 30 penalties, many of which were for breakdown infringements. The Kiwi wasn't to blame; he blew according to the law and had a good game overall.

While the TV commentators for Saturday’s match said early on that it would be up to the players and coaches to adapt to the new law variations, after a string of breakdown penalties they began talking about using ‘common sense’ to keep the game flowing.

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That promoted Dr Ross Tucker, a sports scientist who consultants for World Rugby, to respond on Twitter.

‘It’s like taking medicine,’ he said. ‘Some early side effects may not be pleasant, but it’s the only way to treat “the condition”. If you lower the dose, it’ll never be cured. So if the breakdown was a problem, then let the “intervention” play out without tap dancing into a grey compromise.’

Tucker is right. The breakdown has been a problem, so let’s give these law variations – which were developed with the input of leading coaches – a proper go, and the players time to adapt to them.

A bit of short-term pain will be worth it if there's a long-term gain for the game.