Stalling tactics in England v Argentina 7s match an ‘aberration’ not a Trend

Stalling tactics in England v Argentina 7s match an 'aberration'
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The visual evidence is damming yet, the recent stalling tactics in the recent England v Argentina 7s match at the Toulouse leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series has tarnished each nation’s team’s strategic desires to ‘win at all costs’. Yet for all the social media beat-up, it clearly is an aberration in the sevens game.

The sport of rugby sevens is built on respectful values. Good sportsmanship (and sportswomanship), and fair play, so a hint of teams collaborating to produce an outcome is not good enough and should be dealt with firmly. Though to make this out of a common occurrence is far off the mark.

Yet it is the hint here that will be pounced upon by some sectors of the media. Because with this sport being a part of the upcoming Commonwealth Games and the recent Tokyo Olympic Games, unfair tactics and pushing the boundaries of set laws could potentially bring heavier penalties than simply a ‘kick for the sideline’. It should be made clear that the International body has the means to suspend any nation from competing at any sanctioned tournament, or from a number of World Series events.

This is not to say that either World Rugby or the Commonwealth Games organization [as yet] will act thus far. Their reaction will likely come swiftly, and while England and Argentina may be seen as contravening the spirit of the game, it is not common in the professional ranks. In saying that, it is a poor reflection on what was a good French leg of the 2022 season.

Last Word on Rugby hope that the images of Fiji v Ireland in the men’s Cup final, and the Australia v New Zealand in the women’s finale, are what fans recall. More so than the actions of a handful of players, influenced by calls from the sidelines and playoff positions on Day 2 of the tournament.

Stalling tactics in England v Argentina 7s match an aberration’

World Rugby penned it “bizarre” yet has not made further statements. It clearly is too soon for such official announcements, though the footage has already been shared and reshared widely. Each viewing does damage to the state of the game [in general]. Albeit, indirectly and out of context to how most perceive the sport. The majority see it as a fun and social part of the oval ball game. And it is that perception of any ‘form of cheating’ that can sadly become reality, all too quickly.

From the outside, it was a contradiction of the laws of the game which left a bad taste. The stalling tactic of not placing the ball down to confirm the try did less to promote both teams towards playoff berths, it has done more to take away from the players involved and bring into question a habit which – up to this point – has ever only paused the action, to catch a breath.

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Remember, seven minutes per half. A short break for drinks before the action restarts. And at pace, the game is hectic. So at times, slowing down the play is often called for if you are Perry Baker or Portia Woodman, outpacing the entire defensive line. But for as much as two minutes? It’s ludicrous, strange, and surely an aberration.

So why orchestrate the action so blatantly? And what rewards could inspire such a dramatic act?

The individual at the center of the delay is Will Homer. He escapes the defence, and runs downfield to stand under the posts – already, he is being instructed to delay the planting of the ball. This is a common occurrence in sevens, defenders tracking back to their own goal-line naturally force the offensive player to dot the ball down. On this occasion, this did not occur. No Argentine player moves toward Homer. Because they are too receiving instructions…..one player in fact sits on the turf!

And it will be the actions of those who must be cautioned and even-handed sanctions.

If it wasn’t such an aberration, it would be comical. Indeed some of the most played highlights in sevens involve incredible behind-the-back passes, sensational dives for the corner, or when attempting to score, the ball is fumbled. Enjoyable moments for TV audiences – this one was more painful than enjoyable to witness.

And that is what embarrasses so many. It is shading the fine actions of all the teams involved; especially the well-performing Los Pumas. With both men and women competing, the weekend was another endorsement for the sport. If anything, this one-act will paint the same brush over an entire leg of the World Series.

Ex-players watch on as sideline calls cloud outcome

“You can’t blame the players or the Coaches,” is the final commentary from the World Rugby analyst in the match coverage. Is that correct? Is that the authority by which the players delayed the game? No. His words were disrespectful, and even as the pair of commentators rambled on about Ethics and the Morale obligation for Argentina to compete [to move toward their own goal posts] it is interesting that the crowd begin to whistle and shout. For many, they are the arbiters of what is acceptable.

What about how the referee managed the situation? Poorly, although he and his match officials chatted and he was audible in saying to Homer “you put the ball down” though, Homer seemed undecided. Moving back into the field of play, his stalling and the final advance of a single Argentine player, ended the debacle. A successful place kick soon ended the game.

Note: the result meant Argentina, England and Canada were all tied on points at the end of their Pool A games. Stalling the conclusion to the match ensured Argentina and England went through to the quarter-finals, as England’s points difference was four better than that of third-placed Canada.

What may come from this moment is unknown. World Rugby and/or the national bodies and Commonwealth Games organizers may want to make examples of the poor influence that the England v Argentina 7s match could have on the developing game. Or, the teams could be sanctioned independently; deducted points gained in Toulouse. That would be the repercussion for those involved. Yet will it direct a potential change in the laws and in the manner in which the sport is played?

‘Clear path’ interpretation of Law 8.2

Criticism has been pointed at Los Pumas 7s for their part in this fiasco. And while the comments that ‘it has always happened in sevens’ was followed by calls for the referee to be reprimanded because he lost control of the game. Laws are in place to maintain the integrity of the sport. No discussion, no off-field influence. You carry the ball over the goal line, your intention must be to place the ball and for the game to continue. In fact, in rugby sevens the act of scoring and then restarting the game has often seen an immediate attacking play score at the other end of the field. And that was what Argentina were conniving to stop. But even if they were right, it does not reflect well on those involved.

An appropriate suggestion from an established rugby stakeholder @Rugby_Global was, “You’ve gotta do something about this for the fans, and importantly, for your TV rights holders.

“Basically, a new rugby Clear Path clarification of Law 8.2 would solve this issue. The match referee should be able to designate when a player has a clear path to the try zone, and from there start a 20-second clock from there to when they must ground the ball. Referee should initiate this countdown clock when they feel the game is being stalled, and unnecessarily delayed. Continue to do so, and it becomes a Penalty to the defensive team at the 22 for a violation.

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“Some will have no issue with players giving everyone a short break in play to catch their breath when they are alone and about to score. The fast-paced game can see even the fittest players ‘blowing hard’ but an emphasis on short rest being the operative word. It’s not something you should have to declare on every break…just when there’s no chasing defender and its obvious time’s being wasted.” And it has never been acted out so blatantly as it was on Saturday in the England v Argentina 7s match.

Should it cause a change in laws? No, not entirely.

Guidelines and internal Sevens Series policy can be the tool that influences on-field acts. Repercussions on the other hand might implicate both coaching groups and senior players. Homer may be the most visible, yet men like Argentine Gaston Revol could also face disciplinary action.

All that could occur, yes. You just come to the final conclusion that making ‘enormous changes’ to the global Sevens Series might be going a little far. It is an aberration, not a practice. Wasting time can be found though, to the gravity of this England v Argentina 7s match, it seems more outrageous than a known trend. Plus, this might be the reset of some practices that will be an example of which strategies are unpalatable to both stakeholders and the average sevens rugby fan.

For them, they want action. They want tries scored – not delayed. So maybe embarrassment could be the most influential outcome of this particular match.

 

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