Koppestamp isn’t rugby

Dan Retief

Rugby has become ugly and almost unwatchable and the reason is because what is meant to be a free-flowing spectacle is being choked by chronic off-sides.

This was my contention during a talk to a room full of dyed-in-the-wool rugby men at Villager rugby club.

I had expected some grumblings of disagreement at such a cutting criticism of the game that underpinned the camaraderie in the room but instead there was absolute agreement.

In the wind-up, when tables are pulled together and chairs moved into a circle for multiple ABFs, I was amazed at how many stalwarts confessed they no longer went to matches or even watched games on television.

The beloved game, we agreed, is unattractive, boring, predictable and monotonous. In fact, it is off-sides.

The advent of concepts such as “rush defence” and “line speed”, aimed at cutting down the space available to the attacking side, has been in play for some years but endemic off-sides has become a scourge which World Rugby seems disinclined to even acknowledge, never mind take steps to rectify.

England’s recent victory over Ireland in Dublin was hailed as a “classic” or “epic” Test match for its passion and heroic physicality. As an example of what rugby is meant to be, it was a fiasco as both teams spent so much time off-sides that there was no room to play. In South Africa we have a word for it – “koppestamp.”

If watching referees dominate the game, players constantly smash into each other from melee to melee and endless box-kicks is your bag, you’re welcome to it, but the game we’re seeing these days does not deserve to be called rugby.

What makes this more unacceptable, just like the rules governing the ruck, is that World Rugby’s law book still talks of the “principle” being that “the game is played only by players who are onside” (Law 10) and that (Law 15) “the offside line runs through the hindmost point of the hindmost player of either team.”

With the accent (in coaching) having switched from how to attack to how to stop attack, defending teams line up well ahead of the hindmost foot and invariably start the rush early – space to attack is thus quickly shut down with outside backs often reaching the player they are marking before the ball gets to him.

Ahead of last year’s Test between the Springboks and Scotland, the home team’s reserve hooker Fraser Brown unintentionally summed up the current situation.

“They’ll try and cheat and we’ll try and cheat and whoever comes out on top will probably win,” Brown told The Scotsman. There you have it. Illegality, cheating, rules.

Something has to be done and perhaps the cure might be not to blow the hindmost foot law correctly but to amend it.

My suggestion would be to introduce a one metre gap behind the hindmost foot that has to be maintained. This should stop defenders from creeping ahead of the last foot as it should be easy for assistant referees (touch judges) to take up a position to signal, and call transgressions, where that gap should be.

The effective space created could be as much as three metres and encourage teams to run the ball rather than the interminable morass of crash-balling which is now the norm. Either that or we might as well play Rugby League.

- Dan Retief

Let's chat

  • Stanley Smith

    I totally agree.
    Rugby has become so boring .

    • Hylton mac neill

      Totally agree …..i just watch the ‘highlites’ …..and the players have become bullies and for ever chirping the ref ……most of them a disgrace ….and the powers that be sit and watch idly …….as the game loses its magic……

      • Johan

        I have no idea what the AR’s are doing?
        In football, the linesman are correct with their offside calls about 99% of the time, and they have to watch a guy kicking the ball from anywhere and at that exact time the player has to be behind the last player from the other team…

        What is also slowing the game down and allowing defensive lines to form is the slow rolling away from the ruck/tackle area:
        I have no idea why a referee ever has to call “roll away!”
        These guys are professional rugby players, if he isn’t rolling, penalize him! Don’t coach…
        Also the rule about “not holding” a player in the tackle should be changed in my opinion.

        My suggestion would be:
        If you go to ground, knee on the ground, as a result of an opposition player’s (legal) actions, ankle tap, tackle, etc. then it is deemed a tackle and you need to place the ball.

        This will allow players to roll away quicker as he does not have to “hold on” and will allow quicker player and less “grey area” for referees to hide behind

        Please world rugby contact me I have more excellent ideas :D

        • Greg Shark

          I could not AGREE more…..the rush defence, creeping defensive line (especially outside backs), standing in front of the ruck to deny access defending players, laying over or around the ball, ahead of the kicker, blocking and taking out defending players, running blocking lines to stop players chasing an ‘up and under’…… rugby is no more, its who cheats most and gets away with it is the winner….. need I say more?

  • Al

    Spot on Dan. Nearly every team is constantly off sides these days and it seems that like the scrums the throw in at the line outs no longer has to be straight.

    Another worry for me is that northern and southern hemphisphere refs seem to have an almost completely different rule book these days, especially at the breakdown

  • Barry

    Thanks Dan an interesting read.

    Yesterday’s test England Vs France was no different frankly, with poms spending much of the time way ahead of the off sides line – not that they needed to as France were hopeless

    It is also a difficult task for the Ref because he has his sights on the break down or set piece, rather than the off sides line. The touch judges are so seldom forthcoming in this area that we are left to suck up the mess that flows from this!

    I wonder whether, in the short term, the use of technology is not the solution. Off sides lines could quite easily be superimposed on the screen and monitored by the TMO. This may in the short term be a bit of an annoyance, but teams will quickly adjust and become aware that they can no longer abuse the off sides law! Short term pain for long term gain, perhaps?

    • Chris

      What would be the issue with adding 2 extra touch judges to police the gainline specific infringements like off-side and forward passes/knock-ons? They would basically follow in line with the ball or ball carrier most of the time.

      It would leave the ref free to concentrate on the ever more complicated breakdown area. I don’t necessarily think this would lead to more game stoppages. For instance, there would be less times the ref is 75% sure of a fwd pass and has to stop so the TMO can find the video and watch it 8 times. An extra set of eyes can lead to quicker on-field calls.

      Teams would soon find out that giving away 20 penalties in a game is not a winning strategy. Very simple ,follow the rules or loose.

      The better policing of the off-side line(rush defence) and breakdown would lead to a more attractive game IMHO.

    • SweetAz

      Yep, been saying this for awhile,–the lines on the screen thing. Or get more officials involved like the NFL https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Official_(American_football)

  • John Comyn

    The rush defense is so bad that 9/10 times, by going wide, the attacking team loses acres of ground. By the time the 12 gets the ball the defender is standing next to him. The 12, literally has no option but to go with the crash ball. We saw this again in the England / France game yesterday. All we ever hear when a team loses is how bad the 12 is. Not a position I would like to play these days. There were also 2 occasions yesterday, one on either side, where the chaser was clearly in front of the kicker. The officials missed both.

  • Barry

    Delighted to have added yet another worthy addition to my arsenal of Rugby Jargon, “Koppestamp” now proudly included with “Domkrag”, “Stampkar” and “Afkop Hoender”!

    • SweetAz

      LOL, must admit, I grew up with a different idea of what “koppestamp” meant. In my day it merely meant teammates motivating each other by getting each other riled up so they could take it out on their opponents. Afkop hoender is trademarked by the Lions franchise so watch out….

      • Herman Schroder?

        SweetAz, spot on. It seems the Bulls, Stormers and Sharkettes spend so much time before a game ‘koppestamping’ each other that by the time they run on the field they are totally ‘deurmekaar’. Sure explains a lot. Cheers.

      • Barry

        I suspect you may get a rebuttal from yours truelly, I hope there’s enough space left!

  • Evan Snyman

    Someone else mentioned the NFL and so I will too.
    Put metre marks down the length of the field. This would make your metre-gap suggestion fair as players would then be able to judge their depth and thus a sanction for not doing so becomes justifiable.
    Do not bring in new referees/umpires – simply reallocate their tasks. TV assistant focuses on foul play and crucial calls. Assistant referees focus solely on offside lines and forward passes (and the ball going out). The main man takes full responsibility for open play.
    Coaches get a rolled up pair of socks with which to challenge a decision or ask for TVAR input.
    Ultimately I like the idea of more space to play on the field, but a player must be wilfully offsides in order for a sanction to be fair.

    • Chris

      I’d stay away from giving coaches the ability to stop play. They would simply use this to slow down play so their team can reorganise defence when they’re under pressure close to their line.

      Also, the assistant refs cannot always be on the gain line as they also have to cover the ball going out from kicks.
      I don’t see any problem with adding another linesman.

    • Barry

      It a good idea having additional lines, it would certainly take away any doubt for players and make it easier for Refs to accurately access off sides.

  • ryno

    are we not just playing rugby league already? it is a basterd form of League where play is set up and stats count phase after phase… every now and then there is an 8 man scrum instead of a 3 man scrum… Look at the play pattern: left to right, right to left, boring phase after boring phase…

  • William Botha

    Another possibility is to have the penalty for offsides ten meters closer to the offender’s tryline …or ten meters directly towards the posts … or anywhere on the offside line so the team who now has the ball has more choice in the matter. And escalate the offsides penalties … first offense 10 meters, second is 20 … What I am saying is that currently the consequence of being caught offside does not balance with its impact on the game.

    • Chris

      Problem would be getting the Kiwi’s to agree with this rule change.

  • Blue Peter

    Pillar defense is on of the worst cuplrits. Putting a hand on someone’s back isn’t bound, and that defender is about 2 metres offside.

  • Simon

    Interesting article, and genrally i agree.
    Not that i’m trying to point the finger here (being that i herald from the northern hemisphere :p )- but wasn’t it the Springboks and Jake White that pioneered the rush defensive system, aggressive line speed and game plan based on bomb and box kicks?

  • Wessel Oosthuizen

    Dan Retief was, and still is, known as the legend when it comes to rugby writing. Go Dan!

  • humblepie

    Great article Dan. Spot on.

  • Mark

    Too many rules – all in the name of “safety” and “speeding up the game” are actually slowing the game down – for example, a team hooks and wins the ball in a scrum – but they hold it at the 8th mans feet, then they scrum the other side back and win a penalty….WTF? They have won the ball, they need to play it….so penalty, slows the game, a kick for touch, line out etc, when the ball could have been picked up at the back and sent down the line. SO much of that..just killing the game. I am one who may catch 10 minutes if I happen to be at home and a match happens to be on….10 years ago I used to plan my day to either make sure I go to the game or to make sure I am home to watch it. I dont even play SuperBru anymore….
    Money and administrators have killed the game. It’s dead. Gone. over. Finnishenklaar.

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