Strategic Breakdown Law variations used by Super Rugby Aotearoa

Strategic Breakdown Law variations used by Super Rugby Aotearoa

While strategic to new breakdown law variations, the recent changes to the ruck have been received positively. Super Rugby Aotearoa wants to test these innovations, to judge how successful the law variations will be taken to by players and referees.

Last Word on Rugby’s resident rugby referee, Scott MacLean, has cast his eye over breakdown rules and gives his judgment on these variations.

Breaking down, the new Breakdown Law variations

“We’re not changing the laws of the game, we’re being stricter about how we referee them”. This is the summarization from NZR national referee manager Bryce Lawrence, on how his team of referees will rule the existing laws at the breakdown. He stated they would be applied more strictly to create faster, attacking ball and, a fairer contest.

Scott MacLean sees it in terms of a whistleblower. “On the breakdown stuff, we’ve been asking tacklers to roll-out east-west for a few years now, so this is resetting the focus there, as is getting more stringent about crawling.

“The ‘one dynamic movement’ defines what had become a grey area, and in fairness, players had been able to get away with a bit because of the pressure to keep the ball moving in the name of entertainment. It’ll change the game by putting the onus on ballcarriers to ‘fall correctly’ the first time.

“So turnovers or penalties become a strong possibility here too.”

Referee Paul Williams during the round 3 Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park on February 14, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The key focal points for the referees at the breakdown are summarised below:

  • Ball carriers will be allowed only one dynamic movement after being tackled.
  • Crawling, or any secondary movement other than placing or passing, will be penalised.
  • Tacklers will be expected to roll away immediately in the direction of the side-line. This will be a referee’s “number one priority” at the tackle.
  • There will be “extra focus” on the offside line with defenders expected to be “clearly” onside to provide attacking teams more space.

Scott MacLean continued. “The new emphasis on the offside line to create space should always have been there. The pressure will be on the referee team to deal with those marginal one’s that we’ve let go in the past – those one’s where the player might have been onside rather than clearly onside – if they’re going to achieve what they’re aiming for.”

Strategic Breakdown Law variations used by Super Rugby Aotearoa

Over the first weeks of training to return to Super Rugby, players would have wanted clear messaging. Observers would have noted Lawrence and group of referees routinely visiting with franchise teams, scrum coaches and in video-conferencing. Communication of the breakdown rules and new interpretations will have needed to be strategic to the position and how these breakdown law variations impacted those players.

Breakdown referee
Shannon Frizell of the Highlanders is shown a yellow card by referee Mike Fraser during the round four Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and Highlanders at Orangetheory Stadium on February 21, 2020 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Teaukura Moetaua/Getty Images)

Feedback from players, and like MacLean, active referees would have been invaluable. Knowing how to adjust their games before the opening match on June 13, will be critical for players. This week, final preparations by the Round One competing sides will be focused on all of the innovations introduced.

While the Golden Point, extra time ruling has fans and foes, the desire to create an outright result will be in the hands of the players. Be on the ‘wrong side of a ruling’ and the penalty may offer three clear points. As the games are always close in local derby games, rolling away from a ruck, entering through the gate, are key performance measures.

The change to Red Carded players should be seen as an opportunity. It takes nothing away from the severe repercussions that indiscretions will feel, yet, to allow a replacement after 20 minutes will create a fair contest – especially in the pack.

In conclusion, while the variations to areas like the breakdown laws may seem subtle, every ruling in professional rugby is critical. With such even contests, in the most challenging conference of all Super Rugby teams, the minute detail and understanding and adjusting quickly will show ‘who has done their homework’.

Overall, the game should still be left to flow. The offside line might always be pushed naturally, yet for the game to go forward, players may just need to be fractionally back slightly, to allow for the flowing Super Rugby games that will bring cheer to fans who have suffered Covid-19 restrictions long enough.

Now the players can do what they love best. Play footy!


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images