Heightened reality of ‘advancing rugby player’ penalties a technical foul

Heightened reality of 'advancing rugby player'

There appeared to be a heightened reality of illegally advancing rugby player penalties this weekend in Super Rugby Aotearoa. Somewhat of a ‘technical foul’ for being offside, it showed up multiple times across both games in Round 7.

Used primarily to judge players moving before permitted to following the ball upfield; apart from the player who kicked it and those onside. A technical aspect of the sport where the instinct to advance must be checked, before chasing downfield kicks. A common tactic used in union and league, however, with the law becoming a focus for New Zealand Rugby (NZR) referees, it is a practice that professional and amateur players are not always ‘onside with’.

Incidents seen recently though have occurred over a long period of time. This is not a new interpretation. Law 10 covers Offside and Onside in open play; specifically, if that player/s move/s forwards towards the ball [after a kick].

Super Rugby is not the only arena where the play is focused on. It is a priority in Six Nations games, The Rugby Championship, Mitre 10 Cup/Premiership Rugby games, and widely across the globe. It is nothing new, with both forwards and backs often in line to be penalized equally. This weekend only stands out as much for the frequency, and for the nature that commentators were [somewhat] nonchalant in their tolerance of the act.

Kane Hames described it as having “no impact” and it was referred to on Sunday as something “they have been cracking down on”, and that it was “such an unnecessary penalty”. It put all the pressure back on the host team, and was termed matter a factly as “lazy running”.

True, though as a technical foul the appearance of pinpointing such infractions can slow the game and bewilder those who are not fully cognisant of the details. Yes, it brings frustration to fans who sometimes view these ‘technical fouls’ as both a witch-hunt by officials and possibly as targeted refereeing.

And it is targeted, being one of the focus areas for the New Zealand game. A policy which states ‘If you are not clearly ONSIDEĀ you are deemedĀ OFFSIDE. Creating space is a priority across all areas of the game’.

Heightened reality of ‘advancing rugby player’ penalties a technical foul

Featured as one of the priorities for 2021 in the NZR Toolbox, it, as well as the trial law variations introduced, mean the typical male or female rugby referee was asked to make the offside line in both the breakdown and across the line of the field, a focal point.

These officials had full warning to police the law to its full meaning. Vice versa, it is clear the player has a responsibility to stand (or move backward) before they are put onside by the kicker. Unless the ball is touched by a defender, the frequent penalties seen in the Hurricanes v Crusaders game had been forwarned by the union and its onfield officialdom.

Therefore, in analysis, those guilty advancing rugby players need only pause to think – one assumes. Yet, it seems such an ingrained sense, an almost second-nature reaction. High kick = turn, and chase the ball. Yet it requires more from those determined to meet the highest standards; higher standards than at club level naturally but, Law 10 covers everyone playing and the best example has to come from those at the top.

Fans would expect players to fully comprehend the details and implications of breaking a law. Their awareness itself is a heightened reality of professionalism, so when some react with such horror and derision on their faces when pinged [as the advancing rugby player], it asks the question ‘what do they not know about Law 10?’ What lessons are given, for them to adhere to?

NZ Rugby toolbox offers the facts in visual context

Reiterated by Last Word on Rugby referee advisor, Scott MacLean, who affirmed “It’s a directive from NZR across all levels. Players advancing before they are put onside cuts down on the space for the receiving team.”

Using many tools, a visual aid was developed which clearly gives examples of which player/s are at fault, and what behaviors need to change.

One stars of the video above is Dane Coles. The fiery Hurricanes hooker is a senior All Black and Super Rugby championship winner. Yet in the clash last Sunday, he fell victim to penalties where he and fellow players continued to not follow the laws of the Offside line. Is he a repeat offender? Some would say Yes [on the evidence of Sunday].

So how can junior players learn, if their mentors and men they respect do not adhere to the broadcasted priorities of NZ Rugby officialdom? That is why learnings taken in these games/incidents must be personalized, and owned by the culprits. If a young player could ask Coles that specific question, you wonder if he would feel responsible enough to acknowledge the areas of his game that stop the momentum the ‘Canes want to build on.

Because that is where it is most obvious: the team has just secured possession, and an attacking high kick is made. The team aims to move forward yet the referee finds one or more attackers have moved early (and that offensive act is stopped short). And being called offside brings with it the risk of giving away kickable penalties [see below image].

Richie Mo’unga kicks a conversion during the round 7 Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Hurricanes and the Crusaders. (Photo by Masanori Udagawa/Getty Images)

In all honesty, it is a game today where advancing rugby players must be personally responsible because as much as they are forewarned and called on by the referee and on-field assistants to maintain standards, it is up to the individual. Up to his or her teammates to make note, for coaches to make the point of pinpointing it as a priority in their match reviews so that fans get to enjoy a game with fewer whistles, and more continuous action.

In further correlation, if an incident of an advancing rugby player translated into a Test match loss, the stakes are even higher.


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