Breakdown needs stricter policing

There is a need to focus on law application that would protect the ‘jackaler’ from potential injury threats at the breakdown, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

At the start of New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa earlier this year, there was considerable emphasis placed on stricter policing of breakdown laws, and the need for teams to adjust as referees adopted a zero-tolerance approach.

A point that was driven home as New Zealand kick-started live rugby again was the fact that officials are not enforcing new laws, but simply focusing on stricter policing of those that have always existed.

And so, as the competition progressed, players coming in to clean out from the side or flying in off their feet at the breakdown were quite mercilessly penalised. By reinforcing existing laws, officials were looking to force players and teams to reconsider how they approached their play at the breakdown.

A considerable incentive was to create a safer game by protecting the fetcher or ‘jackal’ – who is often in a vulnerable position looking to steal possession – from suffering serious injuries from cleanouts at the breakdown.

The resumption of local competition has brought a similar refereeing focus on breakdown law applications, but there hasn’t quite been a noticeable level of consistency across all games.

In particular, the risks associated with physical cleanouts was brought into the spotlight when Stormers captain Siya Kolisi and Pumas flyhalf Eddie Fouche were both forced to leave the field after suffering injuries at the ruck during Friday’s match in Nelspruit.

WATCH:Kolisi, Fouche injured after physical cleanouts

This area of the game is something former Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan has repeatedly highlighted concerns about, and he again raised his fears when seeing the footage from the Stormers-Pumas game. When asked what a solution could be, he stated: ‘Well, for officials to apply law. Needs to come as a directive so they don’t feel they are on their own applying it.’

On Monday, it was confirmed that Kolisi’s injury is not as bad as initially feared (grade-one hamstring strain), but Fouche is expected to be out for up to nine months.

At Monday’s virtual media conference, Stormers coach John Dobson was asked for his thoughts on this facet of the game that often looks like the scene of a serious ‘accident’ waiting to happen.

‘The idea is to avoid injuries that happened to Eddie Fouche, and whether the jackaler is getting the necessary protection I’m not so sure. I think there was more protection at the start of Super Rugby Aotearoa as opposed to what we are seeing in our competition.

‘You want to encourage guys to be able to go in to steal to get the turnover, but I just think there could be more protection for the jackaler. We saw Siya getting injured from a cleanout, Bongi snapping his hamstring [at the start of this year], Eddie Fouche suffered a horrific injury. It is cause for a bit more inspection.’

When Dobson was asked what the solution could be, he raised a very valid point that some players are still getting away with going off their feet to clear out a ‘jackaler’ threat. Ironically, and conversely, when there is no threat and an arriving player remains on their feet, they are often penalised for sealing off the breakdown.

‘When you’re going off you feet, you do so with massive weight and momentum … it is a concern, I though the laws were going to project the jackaler more,’ he concluded.

Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images

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