Friday, May 08, 2009
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching two local D2 teams play and one D3 college team and one thing stood out: There is a big disconnect between how coaches perceive the how a post-tackle contest should be refereed, and how the referees actually referee the post-tackle contest.
Back in February a document named "Community Management Guidelines for 2009," that made it to most all in the ref community, but not necessarily to folks in the coaching community. So that's what we're going to look at today, as well as explore some options to get refs and coaches on the same page earlier. Throughout this post, highlights from the document will be displayed in dark green. Its worth noting that while the excerpts below refer to USA Rugby, a similar document was circulated by the RFU. So these aren't just "American Rules."
USA Rugby Referees’ management has established guidelines to refereeing at all levels in USA Rugby. These guidelines enable players and referees to have a clearer approach to the game, to enable consistency in Law application throughout the country. They also reflect directives from the iRB, particularly in relation to the tackle/ruck, and players staying on their feet. The guidelines were first established for the USA Rugby Super League in 2008, and upon its success, it has been further developed for the 2009 season. The RSL Game Management Guidelines 2009 apply only to that competition. This document applies to all other competitions. These guidelines are to be distributed nationally to all referees, referee observers, referee coaches, players/teams, coaches and administrators.
Ed Todd, Referee Manager, USA Rugby Richard Every, National Panel Manager, USA Rugby
I personally received this document because it was forwarded to me by a friend who refs. At that time, I was getting ready to do a guest session with the USA U20s, specifically on ruck/counter ruck and creating turnover ball, and the one thing unclear about the first statement is "does this apply to our national teams as well?" What's the difference between community guidelines and law? I also have several WNT pool players I work with - will these laws apply to them as well, and if so, how to I coach them to do one thing in a league match, and another when they are training with the WNT. So that's one part I want to know. The other part is this: If RSL (Rugby Super League) is playing to a different set of guidelines, what are they, AND will the new Women's Premier League play under different guidelines than D1 and D2?
A. The Tackle
1. The tackler has to immediately release the tackled player, and move away or get to their feet. PK
2. The tackled player must exercise their options immediately. PK
3. Players that slow the ball down should be penalized immediately. PK
4. Referees may instruct the players, i.e. “release the ball”, “roll away”, etc., as long as these players have not already slowed down ball availability.
Referees are to approach a low tolerance level at the breakdown and should penalize early in the match to establish compliance. PK
For the most part, the section on tackle hasn't, changed but there are some clear guidelines about what should be immediately penalized that lead me to some questions: 1 and 2 are basically stuff we all know and all coach - but what about slowing down the ball? A technique used by one to team to speed up ball delivery (something like sealing) is certainly speeding up ball delivery, but it has, over time, started to erode the contest for the a ball. Over time this has evolved into strategies like "zero ruck", where essentially it only takes a tackled player and a sealing support player to secure possession and rather than contest, the defense sets up a 7 or 8 man picket fence on the fringe. Since there is technically no ruck formed, no one is offsides, and the defense can launch without waiting for a ball to be "out" Because there is no contest for the ball, the balance in the IRB charter is off (The IRB charter states that one of the unique qualities of rugby is the balance between the contest for possession and continuity of play). So what of counter-rucking? It's certainly designed to slow down (or turn over) the ball at the tackle contest but I can't imagine it would be blown up as it's absolutely part of the fair contest for the ball. So that's another question I'd like to have answered by a high level slash B panel ref. I think most coaches teach their players defensively to slow down the ball in order to limit the offenses optionsand buy time for their defense to re-align.
B. The Gate
1. All players have to enter the tackle through the gate, referred to as a square entry, shoulders parallel to the goal lines. No part of a player’s body (including their arms), may enter the tackle through any other area. PK
2. Not entering through the gate should not be tolerated. PK
Ok, we're all on board with entering through the gate. But entering with square shoulders is either new, or I've just been ignorant (both are possible). I was forever under the impression that as long as you entered through the gate, you were kosher. Sometimes its advantageous to take an angle to remove a player from the ruck and create a turnover, or even to clear out fringers who may be dangerously offsides. But "square shoulders" implies something entirely different ...
Overhead view, Blue tackled Red. Blue A and Red C are entering through the gate with square shoulders, Blue B is beginning his/her run from outside the gate, but entering through the gate, without square shoulders. Red D is entering from behind the gate and going through the gate, but without square shoulders.
So in the above illustration, who is legal? I suppose A and C are no brainers. Are B and D illegal because their shoulders aren't square? Is only D illegal because technically his or her hand or arm might be outside the gate upon entry. Again Bish or higher level referees, HELP!
C. Arriving Players
1. Players are to enter the tackle on their feet, and remain on their feet. PK
2. At a tackle, arriving players are allowed to play the ball with their hands after an opposition player binds onto them, if:
a. They arrive at the tackle legally,
b. remain on their feet, and
c. Have possession of the ball (i.e. was grasping/holding the ball) prior to the contact occurring.
NOTE: Thus, a ruck has not formed yet.
3. No players may bind onto players that are on the ground. PK
4. Players who secure the ball without their weight fully on their feet (i.e. bound on OR leaning on players on the ground) OR who go to ground head first, or dive over players on the ground, OR dive over players on the ground with the ball between them should not be tolerated and penalized. PK
From the images above, and from item 4, it should be CRYSTAL CLEAR that the act commonly known as "sealing" (also sometimes referred to as bridging, which technically is where the players hand is on the ground, rather than the body) is without question ILLEGAL and will be penalized. That didn't take long ... didn't we just start teaching this a couple of years ago? Phoey!
But seriously - my real question here goes back to the somewhat ambiguous verbiage around "Community Guidelines". Is this application of the law only relevant to "community" rugby (ie anything other than International, Professional, or in the USA, Super league NA4, .. and, with the new structure in place ... Women's Premier League. Or, are community guidelines like this simply addendum's to the law book issued between annual publishing, and do they apply to EVERYONE?
The first illustration below, illustrating legal actions by arriving players, confuses me. Why? It appears to be obstruction. Can my player really stand in a ready for contact position, on the other side of the ball carrier, and initiate a ruck when the ball carrier is not beneath her or in front of here. REF PLEASE HELP! The second illustration should be something we are all familiar with and probably requires no discussion.
Part 5 of this series of clarifications is the one that I find MOST INTERESTING AND RELEVANT, and that from my observation, is not generally being applied uniformly, AT ALL. The referee who did yesterdays game did employ this new clariication, to the delight of one team, and to the frustration of another. Once she explained fully to both sides the logic behind this particular guideline, I think everyone understood and adjusted as well as they could. Here it is:
5. If a player enters the tackle in conformance with the required criteria and subsequently goes to ground during the process of removing a tackler or because the opposition were unable to retain their position at contact, this player should not be penalized because they did not willfully go to ground.
NOTE: They may not remain on the ground, nor be lying on or over the ball. PK
Between guideline 4- specifically the below phrase: