Three rugby pet peeves


At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, ranting from his armchair, we all have a few things that irk us far more than they should. Not least in sport; usually a source of so much joy, little, often inconsequential, bits of gameplay can inexplicably make the blood boil.

I’m taking this opportunity to air my (minor) grievances with rugby (and note this is definitely not a serious article. Well, almost not), and as we move in 2019, maybe the sport can adopt some new year’s resolutions. Self-improvement and all that.

Hail Mary!
One of my biggest pet peeves is teams’ tendency to go for the Hail Mary pass or kick to the winger as soon as they receive a penalty advantage in the opposition 22. I counted numerous examples in the games over the festive period and none came off. Yes, on occasion they do (and are undoubtedly spectacular), but as with many things we tend to remember the successful and forget the numerous failed attempts.

It seems to be an ingrained mentality that when the referee calls ‘advantage’, the attacking flyhalf immediately hoists the ball in the air, going for glory rather than trust their systems and press home the current attacking advantage. Often the reason the defending team conceded the penalty is because they have lost their defensive shape and are under pressure. This is moment for an attacking team to retain their composure and keep pressing, not roll the dice because they have a penalty coming anyway.

Of course, often the passage of play still results in a score – whether the team attacks from a restart like a scrum or lineout or takes a penalty kick, but it frustrates me that players quit on the attacking play so soon and often readily settle for three points when a try could be on offer. The penalty option is not going to go away – when was the last time you can recall a referee calling ‘advantage over’ in the 22?

Exeter are one team that resist doing this better than any other in the Premiership. They started the season with a focus on scoring just tries, eschewing kicks at goal, and it is a approach they have maintained – only kicking one penalty in their most recent four Premiership games.

The premature celebration
Another example of impatience in rugby, I have noticed a tendency for teams who are attacking through short pick-and-goes to jump the gun and celebrate scoring too early.

There was a couple of examples in the Bath/Leicester game just before the new year: as soon as the ball gets close to the line and there is a tiny chance a try has been scored, all the players roar with certain approval – even those too far away to have any idea what has actually happened.

The issue is just that as soon as they start celebrating, inevitably the referee blows up and asks the TMO to check if it’s a try.

Sure, a lot of the time players believe they have scored, and even if they don’t I’m not taking umbrage with the gamesmanship of appearing more confident than they are to trick the referee and award a try. But often the ball is clearly still a bit short and if they had just held on for a couple more phases, would likely have scored for real. The early celebration kills their attacking momentum and they have to restart play. A little more patience in attack would also trade a few minutes of dull replays on the screen for a few more phases of rugby. And that can only be a good thing.

Feeble touch-finders
Perhaps less a grumble, more a resigned sigh for this one. I would love to see players pushing for distance from penalty kicks to touch. It is something I noticed in England’s autumn internationals, with Owen Farrell often erring on the conservative side with his kicks. It is a situation exacerbated by the trend of the past decade to use the more accurate end-over-end touch-finder, rather than the less secure, but ultimately bigger, spiral kick we all used at school/club rugby. But surely a professional flyhalf can find more than 20 metres with a kick to touch…

So, it was positive to see George Ford really hammering his kicks into the corner at Welford Road on Saturday. Leicester Tigers’ ground is by no means the biggest in the country, but Ford really pushed for the extra few metres each time. And the difference to an attacking side from being able to launch a move from a lineout five, six or seven metres out, compared to ten or 15, is immense. Not least the phycological pressure on the defending team; keeping them honest as they know one slip up will mean a score – a more conservative kick and those extra few yards allow a defensive team that little extra security and leeway to attack the breakdown to try and force a turnover.

It is no exaggeration to say an ambitious howitzer to the corner can be a match winning move – remember this from Henry Slade? Bring back the ambitious kick to touch!

What are the things that irritate you in rugby far more than they should?

By Henry Ker

16 thoughts on “Three rugby pet peeves

  1. Replacements mobbing the try scorer in the dead ball area. You are not currently participating in the game so stop with your interfering.

    1. DJ, I totally agree with you on this one. Recently I saw the defender brushed out the way by the replacements. He was a bit miffed and pushed back. More agro ensued. We don’t need that.

  2. This last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot more chatter from players at the ref and especially the assistants. Most notably in the Sarries v Sale game when both Vunipolas could clearly be seen mouthing off at the officials in all corners. One aspect of football I really do not want to see encroach on rugby any further.

  3. Okay so bit to say/share thoughts on here….bear with me.

    Response to DJ – totally agree. Needs to stop.

    Response to Spoon – I agree in sense that we don’t want the football vibe coming in, however I do sympathise with players as, IMO, a high number of ref assistants on the touch line seem afraid to make calls and rely a hell of a lot on the TMO, but inconsistent when they decide to use or not if they are unsure and then make clearly wrong calls.

    Not mentioned above, but on listening to some pod casts this week a common theme coming up from both current and ex-players was to limit the amount of times a team can opt to kick for 5 yard touch to go for a lineout and drive when given several penalties in a row in the oppositions 22. Suggestions of 2 or 3 times and if no score then have to kick for goal. It was an interesting suggestion and i quite like it as A) it may force a team to spin it wide more often and B) could lead to more awards of blantant penatly tries rather than just repeat repeat of infringement and penalty award.

    The second was similar in that the amount of ‘pick and go’ should be limited on the 5 yard/try line again to say 3 times and if you do not score you either turn over posession or a 5 yrd scrum is called. This one is a little more questionable as I actually like to watch the tryline battle and I would assume others do, however it may force more positive action from the attacking team rather than 5mins of the big lads just picking up and going straight to ground.

    Any thoughts/views from others on this?

    1. Not mentioned above, but on listening to some pod casts this week a common theme coming up from both current and ex-players was to limit the amount of times a team can opt to kick for 5 yard touch to go for a lineout and drive when given several penalties in a row in the oppositions 22. Suggestions of 2 or 3 times and if no score then have to kick for goal. It was an interesting suggestion.

      It reduces the options the attacking team has- they can have a s many goes as they like. It’s their ball and their time.
      Your suggestion will, however, lead to more negative play as referees can only award a seven pointer if ‘in the opinion of the referee a try would have been scored, but for an act of foul play’. It’s not always that clear cut.
      If a team are winning by six with the clock in the red they would go for a deliberate penalty on the final play knowing a ref won’t call the seven-pointer unless absolutely certain. If the ref is on the ‘wrong side’ of the infringement then the ref will be at fault.
      Do you really want to end up with 11 v 15 and 100 minute matches as we had last weekend?

      1. Hmm not sure on the angle of your view here Blakey, unless I am missing something. Surely if a team was only allowed 3 goes at a lineout/drive it would create the opposite to having 11v 15 and a 100 minute game?? Example two attempts, two infringements (but not cards/PT…..third attempt attacking team opt to spin it wide off the lineout knowing this is last chance before having to kick for goal. Only caveat is if there is then another infringement as the ball is spun out, does the x 3 start over. Hmm. Anyway it was just something that some of the pros were saying, and it a bit ocntroversial so just wanted to see others views really. I very much doubt it will ever be sanctioned in my lifetime!

  4. 1. Appealing to the referee for penalties in open play. Only one person should speak to the ref, the captain, otherwise let the bloke who is paid to make the decisions make them. Also, players appealing to the ref to go to the TMO, even so far as making the arm signals themselves.

    2. When diving started creeping in *cough Stuart Hogg cough* though this seems to have largely been addressed

    3. Stuart Barnes.

  5. 4. The referee actually enforcing the “use it” call at the breakdown/back of a maul. 5 seconds isn’t it between the call and before a free kick should be awarded? (Could be wrong).

    1. This drives me nuts. Once the ball is won and available, the ref should insist on it being played immediately. 5 seconds is ample and yet SH’s still faff about. Any delay should result in a scrum to the opposition. How many times do we hear a ref shout “use it” and the SH completely ignores him? High time the game was speeded up and the team in possession made to play the ball far quicker.

  6. RE: Hail Mary’s and Exeter’s game plan
    “only kicking one penalty in their most recent four Premiership games”
    Would that be the 4 games where they have a 50% records having lost 2 games by 3 points or less.
    Maybe this tactic has been figured out and is now being turned against them

    1. Leon – it would indeed. Very interesting point that, thanks for pointing it out! (I probably should have noted it…)

  7. some good examples of things teams are doing which are frustrating but my main bug bears relate to the officiating and the consistent lack of consistency

    1. Lowering the tackle height to prevent serious injuries isn’t working if anything it has made the situation worse and the interpretation isn’t being consistently applied
    2. So often we see the book being thrown at one player one week with lengthy bans only to see the same of worse from another player go unsanctioned the next week
    3. Citation commissions vary significantly between leagues and competitions with some leagues hardly ever dishing out bans and others getting over zealous
    4. Backchat needs to be punished. Start with moving the Pen forwards 10 metres and for repeat offenders send them to the bin. This is handled far better in Amateur game than by professional refs.
    5. WR regularly hanging the referees out to dry when they make mistakes. Referee’s have a difficult job to do, made much worse by the constantly change interpretations and priorities. Following such an incident we see a flip flop style overreaction from refs the next week to prevent getting the same treatment.

    1. Perfect timing
      English rugby have just published the findings of a study

      “2017-18 is the first season that the incidence of all injuries was greater for the tackler than the ball carrier.”
      “Concussion accounted for 18% of all injuries to the ball carrier and 37% of all injuries to the tackler”

      Proposed Solution
      “Law application: Collaborate with World Rugby to ensure that law application on the height of the tackle is consistent and understood by all stakeholders… we believe that the threshold for receiving a card for a high-tackle is currently too high”

  8. There will be a way of stopping a try/penalty try being scored. Two attempts, on third either a deliberate penalty (sanction penalty try and yellow card) or forcing an attacking team to take a kick- reducing an option for them and the offending team potentially wins through cynical (but not obvious) foul play.

    As a lower level referee, trust me it would happen as I don’t have access to a TMO and twenty different angles of play

  9. How do you police these issues though? Regrds Hail Mary, it’s surely in the coaching. The, presumably, fly 1/2, ought to kick wing wide only if there’s an obvious overlap or a definite likelihood, IHO, that his team mate will win the ball in the air. It’s a cop out, or lack of belief in the back line, to automatically kick pass in the oppo 22. IOW, aerial R1! The premature celebration thing? Well, it’s an attempt to influence, another type of cheating. Again how to police, stop it? Worse things occur IMO, like refusing to immediately turn over possession following a pen, scrum etc, or kicking it away.
    Some view this as ‘gamesmanship’. Fooey! In respect of feeble touch finders, well how can the length of a Kick be dictated? Agree that a kicker generally ought to go for the max, but again, a mindset, or coaching, thing. Lack of self belief. Fear based, or fake rugby?


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