Will law tweaks kill the fetcher?

Oom Rugby

Hi guys. The new year is here and as usual there new laws to understand before we can pour a brandy and sit down to watch rugby!

The changes we most interested in is at the ruck, where our window to attack the ball is now very small. First, the tackler can not “bounce” up and steal anymore – he must first retreat and come through the gate. Second, we now needing only one player over the ball to form a ruck, after which hands on the ball is illegal.

So it is harder now to poach and slow. What trends will we see? Is the fetcher going to die? What will the impact be on playing style? I took a look at the weekend game between Wales and England to get a flavour…

Standing Off
What is clearly happening is that teams just does not go into the breakdown anymore. If we look above the English only have the tackler in the ruck and the rest is in the line.

I did a quick count in the match of how often the defending team send in a extra player or players to contest at the breakdown. Wales only contest 34% of English ball and the English only contest 25% of Wales ball. Each team also only poach opposition ball on two occasions. Only four steals in the whole game.

If we considering how many breakdowns there is in a match, and how important it is to slow opposition ball, then it is very interesting to see how rarely this two teams did it.

Standing off the breakdown is not a new thing – we have seen teams like the All Blacks do it for a while. But the new laws is going to cement it and make it more extreme.

Above we see Joseph tackling Evans. Farrell is in the prime position to contest but the interesting thing is that he will not… Hard to believe hey? It can be because the blindside where May is standing is out numbered and Farrell felt he will rather bounce out to that side to get numbers up.

But we saw this the whole game from both teams! A tackle is made but no extra defenders comes in to contest. To me we are seeing a clear policy to leave the breakdown alone.

Why? Well, rugby is a numbers game and we want to use our player resource in the wisest way. If our window to attack the ball is now even smaller with the new laws, then we will rather not waste players by sending them to a situation that give us poor returns.

Possible Effects
So what will it mean? If you are the defending team then unfortunately you now facing dangerous quick ball because you did not try to slow it. But a big positive is that you have more players on their feet, and more numbers in defence mean you have more options.

We will probably see a increase in defence linespeed and aggression. We will see more double tackles, as in the picture above. And we will see more attempts to hold the carrier up and force a turnover – the so call “choke” tackle. The point of slowing the ball is no longer at the breakdown, it is now at the collision.

In the meanwhile the attacking team have lovely clean ball, but they must still send in multiple players to make sure they secure it, even if the defence do not. And as we see in the first picture, after every breakdown there is now more defenders in the line than attackers. This mismatching will cause more structured attack patterns, more big carries, more tactical kicking and more focus on set piece as teams tries to first break down a defence before their x-factor guys can strike.

Return Of The Counter Ruck?
In the picture above we see the Wales tighthead Francis drive over the England ruck defence like a bus drive over a puppy.

It is just the wing May who is there to secure the ball with poor technique and he don’t stand a chance. If the defence is standing off the ruck, and the attack get lazy about protecting the ball, then maybe we will see more “blitz” counter-rucking by clever teams who is ready for it.

This only happen on two occasions in the match and here the Welsh quickly flood over the ball and turn it over. Maybe we will see teams using their pillar defenders to transform into counter-rucking units when the call is made.

Effect On Players
What about our poor fetcher? I think you agree it is a waste to choose a specialist for a role that is greatly diminished. The modern openside must offer us more than just a poaching and slowing ability.

As I mention earlier we still have to slow the opposition down, but that will now happen at the contact point and not at the breakdown. So our openside must be able to make dominant gain-line hits along with his big brothers in the rest of the pack.

Above we see the Wales openside Nividi who made one turnover and interfere at six rucks and that is fine. But his lock friend Jones interfere at eight rucks, so these days it is everybody’s job. Our modern openside must still have speed to play his important support role in defence and attack, but he must be more of a all-rounder on the park.

Anyway guys, we looking forward to the start of Super Rugby this weekend and how teams and players adapts to the laws. Now that you understand, you can pour that brandy before the game!

DISCLAIMER: English is Oom’s third language, after Rugby and Afrikaans.

- Oom Rugby

Let's chat

  • Johan

    Good analysis.

    My 2c:

    Farrell made a mistake
    The tackler has space and opportunity to roll away, and Farrell has a perfect legal opportunity to compete.

    The role of the fetcher will not be to fetch after making a tackle, the fetcher should now not be part of the tackle and compete immediately when the player is on the ground. Also, instead of having a “specialist” fetcher, all players should be ready to compete when the guy next to you completes a tackle.


    I foresee a lot of kicking. More players defending and more players on their feet, running at the line may not be such a good idea. Up and Unders making a comeback! (Go Bulls!)

    Fast ball can however help when attacking:
    As soon as there is one player over the ball offside lines is formed. A quick scrummie (Faf!) can now force penalties and defence will have to back pedal at high speed!
    Plays with a big runner getting over the advantage line and then quick passes to another runner can now bring penalties and opportunities for tries.

    Finally more penalties equal more opportunities for driving mauls, I expect we will be forced to watch a lot of these.

    • Oom

      great comments Johan.. yes your point about forming quick rucks and posible penalties is spot on!

    • Tertius

      Could not aggree with you more.

  • Peter

    Brilliant analysis Oom Rugby….totally totally agree with you….a team like the Stormers who …..apart from Siya Kolisi ….dont have a fetcher must be smiling broadly.
    Im betting my bottom dollar quite a few teams are going to get quite a few penalties against them till they become fully aware and play to these new rules.
    It definitely changes the dynamic quite a bit and if not defended properly could lead to a few tries.
    Watch how quickly the New Zealand boys use this to their advantage…..as they were probably the instigators of this rule change….
    Thank again Oom for the very nice, clear and easily understandable explanations and examples…..geniet die pramfien!!!!

  • Oom

    cheers Peter you too!

  • humblepie

    Thanks for explaining the rule changes Oom. My prediction based on this:
    1. More difficult to get turnover ball at breakdowns
    2. Attacking, ball in hand teams will benefit
    3. Higher speed of play, less stoppages
    4.Higher demand on player fitness levels
    This will favor the athletic players. The bulky, heavy players will find it hard to keep up. A move towards Sevens style of play
    I can not see why teams will now want to kick possesion away if these rule changes favor the attacking team.
    I agree with Johan that you will need 15 players as fetchers.

    • Oom

      good points hey. your second point is interesting..
      on one hand we have the theory that it only get HARDER to score as phases go on. Defence can become more and more organised , especially with new laws where they have more numbers it is harder to catch them with pants down. So a good tactical kick can disrupt them , and we can now putting pressure on THEM to try score and risk the mistake.

      Other theory is that effective phase play can eventually create the holes we want. This is of course possible but not everybody can do it.. we need some big carries at the right time and place, our choice of where to target the carry is important and then of course our shape and depth must be perfect to get speed on the phase. Quite hard to do!

      • humblepie

        My perception is that big carries by big players to gain 5 meters are no longer employed by teams like the Lions. They prefer to use the full width and depth of the field at a high pace. Conventional teams that prefer to park their big boys in the middle to wait for play to return to them are exposed. They are forced to follow the ball. It proved tobe an effective means to neutralise the bulky players. We have seen how 2.07m locks gasped for air on arrival at lineouts and became easy targets for smaller opponents whilst they recover.
        Rule changes that further protect attacking teams against accidental loss of possession at breakdowns will further entrench this.
        Kicking will be used in a similar fashion than at 7s. employed as a surprise weapon always with the intent to either score a try or to regain possession. Never to merely get out of your half at the cost of possesion.
        My pennies worth. Keep up the interesting analysis. Warm regards

        • humblepie

          Just a note regarding the prediction that defending teams will now spread out and make it harder for opponents. My opinion is that nothing prevented them from doing it under the old rules as well. Defending teams do not have much discretion on how they deploy their players as this is dictated by the attacking team. They hold all the cards on how players of both teams are best deployed.

    • Johan

      Good points.

      About the kicking:
      I agree with Oom:
      “a big positive is that you have more players on their feet, and more numbers in defence mean you have more options.”

      “We will probably see a increase in defence linespeed and aggression. We will see more double tackles, as in the picture above. And we will see more attempts to hold the carrier up and force a turnover ”

      With more double tackles, more people on their feet and better linespeed, I just feel attacking wouldn’t be easy.

  • humblepie

    There is a constant theme in the rule changes of the last 5 years and I suspect we will see more of it in the next 5.
    I suggest we stop searching for remaining loop holes in the rules that will still benefit a traditional style of rugby. It will be far more rewarding to embrace these changes, adapt our mind set and play a fast paced, innovative (dare I say “Clever”) rugby. I have no doubt that the Boks will then become the number one team in the world. Reasons?
    1. Well our Sevens boys dominate the international scene with their skills, clever play and athletic ability, so should the 15 man code.
    2. Our fast fields in South Africa are ideally suited to benefit from these trends

  • humblepie

    I want to request that Oom starts a thread regarding STYLE OF PLAY IN SO CALLED RED ZONES.
    Have you noticed how the progressive teams love attacking from their own red zones? They seem to believe that a fast player only need one line break to score regardless if he has to run 10m or 70m after the break. The key is to have explosive speed.
    Should you agree with this perception, I want to take it a step further. I suggest that it is easier to break the line in your own red zone as opponents are more attack oriented. It is very difficult to break a line in your opponents red zone as they are drilled to perfection on how to defend in such scenarios. Ironically this is the only time that traditional coaches will allow its players to attempt to score tries with backline moves! No wonder they gave up on playing to attractive rugby…

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