Why have a ball? – Jake

Jake White

For the first 20 minutes of the Super Rugby final, the Crusaders were getting absolutely bashed by the Jaguares’ linespeed, and the Kiwis were turning over the ball.

Then there was a water break at the end of the first quarter and the Crusaders got together for a team talk. From that moment on there was a definite change in tactics. Instead of getting hammered with ball in hand, the Crusaders decided to kick when they were between the 10-metre lines, and that’s where they got their attacking ball – from Jaguares knock-ons or penalties, or they won it in the air.

The Kiwis used box-kicks and one of those set up the breakdown turnover that led to Codie Taylor’s try. The Crusaders won their 10th title by kicking instead of keeping the ball in hand – they finished the game with less possession and territory, and won.

That reminded me of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. In the last eight games at the tournament (the four quarter-finals, the two semis, the third-place playoff and the final) the team that had less ball won seven of eight matches.

As was the case in 1995, South Africa prevailed in a final where no tries were scored, and here we are 12 years later, in a competition that prides itself on tries, and only one try was scored in the final by the team that had less ball.

You’d think that having more of the ball would give you a greater chance of winning the game, but it’s not the case and probably won’t be the case at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

So how do you change that to give the game a different shape? If you want to make it a possession-based game, then you want to reward the team that has the ball in their hands by making it easier for them to get into try-scoring positions.

With this in mind, I think it’s fantastic that World Rugby is considering implementing the 50/22 rule. Based on a similar law in Rugby League, the 50/22 rule would award a lineout to the kicking team if they successfully kick from their own half and the ball rolls into touch inside their opponent’s 22.

The threat of conceding an attacking lineout would motivate the defending team to deploy ‘goalkeepers’ on either side of the field to make sure the 50/22 kicks are covered.

And if you’ve got two goalkeepers deep, a scrumhalf covering chips and a fullback in the middle, that leaves you with 11 guys in the defensive line which means the attack would have a big numerical advantage.

Supporters groan when their team ‘kicks the ball away’, but a team could get possession and territory with 50/22 kicks.

On its own, the 50/22 would inevitably create a game where teams just keep peppering the 22 for attacking lineouts, so to add some balance I’d suggest the following law change: the receiving team can mark a kick launched from their opponent’s half for a free-kick anywhere on their opponent’s 10-metre line.

So, if you catch such a kick on the full and mark it, you could opt for a scrum, or quick-tap anywhere on your opponent’s 10-metre line. This will make the kicking team think twice before they give the ball away.

It would completely change the shape of the game and create something that’s never been seen before. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened – consider that lifting jumpers at the lineout used to be illegal, wingers used to throw in at the lineout until someone worked out they were more useful in the backline, and penalties kicked into touch used to give the receiving team the feed.

The shape of the game needs to change. Currently, you don’t get rewarded for having the ball, you get rewarded for having field position and defending.

Rugby should be a possession-based game, otherwise what’s the point of having a ball?

- Jake White

Let's chat

  • Barry

    A bit of a stretch this week Jake. The Saders ability to read the game and make changes is unquestionable, but the difference between the sides on the day was that the Jags were unable to finish. They had two dead certain tries but came up inches short. That to my mind was the difference.

    I think that the Jags were also a little overtaken by the event, whilst the Saders have been in many finals. They will have learnt much from this – they’ll be back

  • Nick

    Start by applying the laws that already exist. Ie, staying on feet at the breakdown. Behind the last line of feet for defenders. possession must be a fair contest. Was astounded watching the super rugby how players and ref ignore these important aspects.

  • Chris Mouton

    Hmm, Jake, are you on something? Must be as two players in your club and the club itself was banned from the local competition after it was found that the players in question had cocaine in their possession. I’ll stop watching rugby if they implement the 50/22 rule. The entire game will grind to a halt due to lineouts, which will just kill the action. Instead, attacking teams will stand more of a chance if they police the offside line more correctly. The majority of these rushing defenses are offsides.

    One has to remember, the Saders are a classy outfit with a lot of seasoned players that have been to finals before. They can strategise on the fly. There’s a reason why they’re considered the best rugby club in the world, although I would’ve loved to see a match between them and Saracens. A man can dream. Instead, I think the major difference was that Bonilla had a shocker. A lot of his kicks went straight to the back three, which just gives away possession. If a player like Sanchez played that game might have turned out differently.

    I’ll give credit where it’s due, as the Saders are superbly coached. As Barry mentioned above, the Jaguares will be back though.

  • chris

    Make all the rule changes you want.
    A team that has to fly halfway around the planet to go play a final in NZ is screwed. We see this play out every year. The top 2 NZ teams usually scores the most try bonus points giving them home semi’s and finals .Game over for everyone else.
    The final of this competition is basically dead rubber. I stopped watching as soon as the Saders were 2 scores ahead.

    In reality the Jags lost the weekend before when the Hurricanes dropped out and we all know it.
    A match in Arg. would have been a awesome affair and great for the SR competition IMHO. I’d even been tempted to put a couple of bucks on the Jags.
    We should try and have the final in a neutral country with +/- equal travel distance. Same as what they do in the Superbowl SR could comp the tickets to get a full(er) stadium. Hell , have the game at Twickenham. What SR country doesn’t have a huge expat community in London ? You announce the venue at the start, so people buy tickets early in the season hoping their team makes it to the end. If they don’t, they will still go instead of wasting a ticket.

    • John Comyn

      Great idea Chris. Perhaps Singapore if not the UK?

      • Chris

        Singapore would be a great option as well.
        I was at the NZ Ireland game in Chicago a few years ago. I was gobsmacked at seeing a 60 000 seater at capacity in the US with 2 FOREIGN teams playing.

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