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TMO – Try-scoring Maybe Over?

The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions, and it is in that direction that we looked when a well-meant IRB press release landed on our desk last week.

We are talking, of course, of the announcement of another set of law changes and a few other initiatives to be trialled later this year.

The release explained that the following laws will be put in place:

1. Law 16.7 (Ruck): The ball has to be used within five seconds of it being made available at the back of a ruck with a warning from the referee to “use it”. Sanction – Scrum.

2. 19.2 (b) (Quick Throw-In) For a quick throw in, the player may be anywhere outside the field of play between the line of touch and the player’s goal line.

3. 19.4 (who throws in) When the ball goes into touch from a knock-on, the non-offending team will be offered the choice of a lineout at the point the ball crossed the touch line; or a scrum at the place of the knock-on. The non-offending team may exercise this option by taking a quick throw-in.

4. 21.4 Penalty and free kick options and requirements: Lineout alternative. A team awarded a penalty or a free kick at a lineout may choose a further lineout, they throw in. This is in addition to the scrum option.

5. A conversion kick must be completed within one minute 30 seconds from the time that a try has been awarded.

Now, from the outset it was clear that these changes will have an impact on how teams approach the game. The “use it” law at rucks, for example, will break the habit of setting up one slow ruck after the other as they run down the clock in tight games. It will also prevent them forming a row of players attached to the back of a ruck to create space for a scrumhalf to launch a box kick.

The 90-second rule could have just as much of an impact. Whereas previously there was an ill-enforced time limit on place kicks, it only came into effect after the ball was lined up to the posts. Now the clock starts ticking the moment a try is scored. No time to celebrate, even if you scored the try yourself. It’s run back and kick.

There is no doubt that this will speed up the game somewhat, and we’re all for that, but what will be the effect on goal-kicking accuracy?

It is these kinds of questions that ran through our minds throughout the Super Rugby weekend as we watched teams slug it out in round 13 action.

If the new laws were in place now, as they will be in next year’s edition, how different would things have been.

The answer, after a fair amount of deliberation, is ‘quite a bit’. But it is not the law changes themselves that brought us to that conclusion. History has shown us that players will simply adapt and find new ways of bending them to their advantage.

Instead it is lower down in that IRB press release that we see problems brewing.

We refer specifically to their decision to widen the jurisdiction of the television match official to “incidents within the field of play that have led to the scoring of a try and foul play in the field of play”.

Had that can of worms been opened before this weekend things would have been considerably different.

To illustrate the point we’ll look at one match and find a few examples of how things could have worked out differently for the winning team.

Take a look at this clip:

Gareth Delve try

When Rebels No 8 Gareth Delve ran over for this try against the Force on Sunday, the cynics among us may have thought Julian Huxley’s pass was somewhat flat, but we’re used to it, so it never even got mentioned. Looking at the clip, however, it is clear that there is far more space between Huxley and the goal-line when he passes the ball than there is between Delve and the line when he catches it. The pass was forward, and if the TMO had his way that wouldn’t have been a try.

And that was a pass we noticed in general play.

How about this one:

Neville's second try

Using the 22m-line as a yardstick, it is clear that the ball was passed before the line, and gathered on or just over it. The same thing also happened when Huxley put Cooper Vuna over in the 35th minute.

That is three tries that would potentially have been disallowed by the man upstairs, and that in a game where the team we focused on won it by one point. And we only looked at one team and one type of infringement.

Now referees have always been quick to dismiss criticism of their handling of forward passes by pointing out that television is a bad medium to use in judging. And they are right. Not only can differing camera angles confuse matters, but the forward momentum imparted on a ball if a player is in motion when he passes, means our method of looking only at where the ball is released and where it is gathered (what we did above) is pretty much invalid.

Yet, it is a man behind a television - seeing only what we see - that will judge on these things in future.

And then there are the bigger questions around the TMO’s involvement. Just how far back in general play are they allowed to go as they look for a reason not to award a try? Is it the last set-piece? The last breakdown?

Oh dear, and what about that breakdown? Will anyone be able to score from a move that included a TMO-reviewed ruck, when the average one consists of at least two currently un-penalised offences by either side?

Unlike a referee, a TMO – with unlimited replays and many angles - cannot look away when an attacking player pushes a ball back towards his scrumhalf. That is hands in the ruck, and he must blow it. He cannot be blind to players joining the ruck from a slightly offside position; he’ll have to check that all involved passed through the gate. Everybody will have to be behind the hind-most feet (he can prove that you weren’t), nobody can clean out the way we’re used to (he is checking if you stayed on your feet and were using your arms). It is going to be one big mess.

We are worried, and you should be too.

Here at the SuperWrap desk we are proud to be associated with a game that has always shown a willingness to use whatever means they have available to bring about improvement. But this time it will be unworkable, and it is the laws -- especially at the breakdown -- that will be to blame. Their intentions are noble, but unless they severely limit what a TMO can rule on, watching 80 minutes of our beloved game will soon become pure hell.

On that ominous note, let’s move on to things that actually did happen this weekend:

Note: all our teams are selected on the past weekend's action only, so overall season form is not a factor. Players in teams with a bye are then obviously not considered.

Super XV for week 13:
15. Joe Pietersen (Stormers) 14. Julian Savea (Hurricanes) 13. Tamati Ellison (Highlanders) 12. Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) 11. Zac Guildford (Crusaders) 10. Kurtley Beale (Rebels) 9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) 8. Scott Higginbotham (Reds) 7. Matt Todd (Crusaders) 6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders) 5. James Horwill (Reds) 4. Eben Etzebeth (Stormers) 3. Owen Franks (Crusaders) 2. Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs) 1. Benn Robinson (Waratahs).

Bok Borometer for week 13:
15. Joe Pietersen (Stormers) 14. JP Pietersen (Sharks) 13. Paul Jordaan (Sharks) 12. Jean de Villiers (Stormers) 11. Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks) 10. Peter Grant (Stormers) 9. Francois Hougaard (Bulls) 8. Keegan Daniel (Sharks) 7. Marcell Coetzee (Sharks) 6. Siya Kolisi (Stormers) 5. Juandre Kruger (Bulls) 4. Eben Etzebeth (Stormers) 3. CJ van der Linde (Lions) 2. Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs) 1. Tendai Mtwarira (Sharks).

Match of the week:

Sunday morning rugby is a phenomenon yet to take off properly in South Africa, with most people choosing to lie in. This is even more so when it is a match involving two lesser Australian teams.

Aussie derbies tend to feature teams allowing each other turns to take the ball through phase after pointless phase, with very little to show for their efforts on the scoreboard.

We were pleasantly surprised on Sunday, then, when the Rebels and Force put up a show very much worth getting up for. From the word go both teams ran the ball with everything they could muster, and by halftime the game had already provided six tries.

The second half proved less spectacular, but with the result up for grabs right up to the final whistle, both teams kept the intensity levels up.

Kurtley Beale slotted a penalty two minutes from the end to claim a one-point win for the Rebels, but both teams can take a bow for the entertainment they provided.

Here are the match highlights:

Please note that video footage is for the website only and is rights restricted and therefore only available in regions that fall within SuperSport’s broadcast footprint.

Match of the week

Try of the week:

Chris Feauai-Sautia is a name none of us have heard before this weekend, but the youngster is very highly rated in Australia, and he showed us exactly why when he scored the second time he touched a ball in Super Rugby.

From a lineout move inside their half, the Reds put the youngster in a gap. He linked up perfectly with Will Genia before hanging on to the return pass to score our try of the week.

Here it is:

Try of the week

Congratulations to:

  • Morne Steyn and Adam Freier, who played in their 100th Super Rugby (SR) matches this weekend.
  • Dewald Duvenage and Sarel Pretorius, who passed the half-century mark for SR caps.

Quote of the week:

“I’m afraid the Reds sent in the night-watchman fifteen minutes ago.” Phil Kearns is not convinced by the Lions’ fightback at the end of their match in Brisbane.

Twitter files:

Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:

The Cheetahs are not normally known for wanting to be in front of the cameras, so it was interesting to see Andries Strauss, Robert Ebersohn and Ashley Johnson agree to be on local programme Top Billing recently. The show’s regular rugby celebrity Bryan Habana must have had a previous engagement
We’re grateful that injured Bulls flyhalf Lionel Cronje was lucky enough to find the following items in his neighbour's yard after being burgled recently. A lot of kit on that table, but no pink?
Will Genia’s recent contract flip-flop and subsequent re-signing with the Reds had quite a few fans in Queensland. Here is teammate Digby Ioane's reaction.

That’s a wrap

We’ve had quite a few giggles in this column about the administrative blunders of the Lions recently, but it seems they are not alone. The guys in Cape Town are fast catching up.

When the Stormers ran out against the Cheetahs a fortnight ago, it was the 100th time that Springbok wing Bryan Habana played in a Super Rugby match. The home union, however, forgot to tell anyone. Or so it seemed.

Habana himself took to twitter during the week to find out from his fans how many caps he had. It turns out the Stormers had him down as having played only 99 matches, and in so doing missed the chance to mark what is a great achievement.

Habana kept his chin up when he found out about his milestone from fans, responding that at least they won that particular match.

Here at the Wrap desk we did, of course, congratulate Bryan after the Cheetahs match. Perhaps we should extend our “Congratulations to” feature to include upcoming milestones too. It could save some blushes down in Slaapstad.

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