Loose Pass: The lawbook, mauling and summarising the Autumn Nations Series teams

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with techniques, mauls, camera angles and some small scattered observations…

Let’s get technical

Watching the near-endless stream of TMO reviews and referrals through the course of the weekend, coupled with the commentaries running over them from both officials and commentators, Loose Pass can’t help but feel that we’re not always paying attention to the right things – or framing them in the right way.

When a tackle or a clearout looks a little dangerous, it often is. The danger starts with the simple concept: 100kg of flesh and bone colliding unflinchingly with another 100kg of flesh and bone at high speed is simply dangerous.

Which is why, in rugby, we have a lawbook that is eye-achingly long, an ongoing, rich and necessary debate on how to reduce it and an ongoing education for coaches and players alike for good technique which can reduce, or mitigate, danger as well as possible.

And it is this aspect of technique which seems often so glaringly absent from the conversation – or at least, explicit acknowledgement of it. Cases in point: Olly Woodburn’s clearout of Northampton’s Ollie Sleightholme which saw the latter forced out of the game with a head knock, weighed up against Aaron Hinkley’s tackle later in the game which saw the Saints flanker yellow-carded.

Both caused hefty blows to the recipient’s heads, yet Woodburn was low, hips below shoulders, arms out ready to bind; he did nothing wrong. Hinkley, meanwhile, charged upright into the tackle, made front-on contact with chest rather than shoulder, and while the head contact was incidental it was purely down to the poor technique. Hence his yellow card. Both decisions were correct – as was the decision to yellow card Fiji’s Vinaya Habosi for his swinging arm but not Jack Nowell for his tackling arm.

As talked about last week, it is often the jackaler, as Sleightholme was, who is copping the most dangerous blows as they stand prone. But Loose Pass lost count quite quickly during the internationals of how often cleaners came into rucks with their shoulders clearly below their hips, upper bodies just as clearly aiming down.

Is this not something that needs some more enforcing? The directives from World Rugby on the need for shoulders to be above hips at ruck time have been explicit on several occasions, yet players continue to swoop into rucks like vultures, with the resultant collisions leaving bodies everywhere.

The irony here is that at several points during the weekend we saw the value of a good counter-ruck when the technique is right and the cleaners stay on their feet; there’d be similar value in simple good rucking going forward too, along with – we presume – tidier rucks.

But back to the initial point here: wouldn’t it be good education for commentators and officials alike to consider the role of technique during TMO reviews, as well as danger and points of contact? We reckon the basis for confusing decisions would be far more clear to see.

And as an aside, while we are on about poor technique being punished: how on earth did Cheslin Kolbe and/or Pieter-Steph du Toit not see red?

More on mauls

A shorter one here; Loose Pass has gone on and on about mauls in several columns. Yet two pieces of match commentary (and some dastardly camerawork) summed up reasonably well what goes on still at maul-time and the differing attitudes to it.

During the aforementioned Saints-Exeter match, an Exeter maul went to ground, with Saints forwards furiously flopping all over it to ensure the ball was blocked in.

Match commentators were a little affronted: “that ball should have been available” was the lament. But why? If an attacking side brings, or lets, a maul go to ground and can’t recycle it properly, then isn’t it their own fault for not being able to manage it right? A collapsed maul is the rare moment where a defensive team is not obliged to roll away.

After all, as Scotland proved for George Turner’s try, attacking mauls still get away with murder. Ali Price not only bound into the maul in front of the carrier, he actually ensured separation of said carrier from his potential tackler before partially pivoting said carrier around his body and shoving him over the line.

Any TMO review? Of course not – and it was notable that the key angle of replay was not shown on a screen anywhere before the half-time break 10 minutes or so later (despite the commentator laudably flagging the possibility of an infringement).

Anyway, the officiating of the maul has improved, but there is still room for improvement from both the officials on pitch and from TMO. And let’s cut maul defenders some slack: they currently have the hardest task of all defenders.

Educating angles

A good piece of improvisation in the TV coverage of a cagey opening between Exeter and Northampton as well: use the angle behind the sticks to help us understand why kick-tennis exchanges happen and what the teams are trying to achieve.

Not that the kicks themselves lived up to the strategic intentions as outlined by the commentators, but it did at least show us that the opportunities for kicking to space and putting on pressure are there. A better angle – the one we had was somewhat skew and not central – would be better, but kudos to the producers and commentators for ‘knowledging up’ a dull opening.

Commentator moment of the weekend

“Here he comes, the man who sounds like a sneeze, Ox Nche.”

The international teams in a word

Wales: Leaky

England: Disjointed

Scotland: Lukewarm

Fiji: Loose

Ireland: Resolute

South Africa: Kickerless

New Zealand: Defiant

France: Lucky

Australia: Fragile

Argentina: Opportunist

READ MORE: ​​Power Rankings: Two Cents has France on top spot with England down in sixth

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