Waz's Coaching Corner - Offside at Kicks

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By ARU Media Unit

Let's take a look at dealing with players at kicks in general play. You may have noticed an increase in penalties for offside at kicks throughout the Super 14 season and in recent Test Matches. There has been a focus from the IRB and SANZAR to clean up this area of the game. Why you might be asking?

For those of you who follow rugby league you will observe that at the end of each set of 6 a player kicks the ball down field and all his team mates march off after it. They work together and form a defensive wall 10m from the player who is catching the kick. This player fields the kick and invariably crashes it up into the defence and so begins the next set of 6. Over time rugby union has adopted a similar defensive approach, the chasers build a line (or wall) and when the opposition receive the ball the player has little or no options. With the conservative tactics employed by most teams these days the player generally kicks the ball back to the opposition at which his team set up and advances their own defensive wall. Hence games end up with some pretty innocuous kicking or ‘aerial ping pong’ as some like to call it.

The changes this season have been brought about to avoid this aimless kicking by forcing players in front of the kicker to stand still (stop) or retire until put onside by the kicker or an onside teammate. This change improves the time and space for the receiving player/s. This increased time and space creates more room for players to counter attack and opens up more attacking options. It also reduces the amount of kicking.

Let’s look at an overview of Law relating to offside in general play when the ball is kicked and how the referee should manage players in front of the kicker.

Offside in General Play (Law - 11.1)

  • When the ball is kicked in general play, any player of the kicking team in front of the kicker is offside. Players must not move towards opponents who are waiting to play the ball or the place where the ball will land.

How should the referee manage players in front of the kicker at a kick down field (long kick)?

  • Players will be forced to comply with “standing still”, or “retiring”, in relation to being in front of the kicker:
  • Referees will call for a player to stop advancing!
  • The referee can use terms such as ‘hold’, ‘stop’, ‘wait’ or even ‘freeze’. The idea is to use a term that the players will clearly understand. These terms should also be accompanied with a descriptor of colour, number or both. e.g. ‘5 white stop’.
  • If the player continues to advance, he will be penalised!
  • This includes if players only run a few metres – they have already cut down time and space for the receiving team. It’s pretty simple, stop or risk being penalised.

Offside under the 10m Law (Law - 11.4)

  • If offside players are within 10m of where an opponent is waiting to play the ball or where the ball may land, they must immediately retreat outside this 10m zone. This 10m line stretches across the width of the field (it is not just a circle around where the ball alights).
  • Offside players within the 10m who are retreating can only be put onside when an onside teammate runs them on. No action of the team catching the ball puts such an offside player onside.
  • Offside players who are not within 10m must not move forward or towards the ball. These offside players who are standing still can be put onside when an onside teammate runs them on, or when an opponent runs 5m, kicks, passes or touches but does not catch the ball.
  • Offside players cannot be run onside unless they are retreating out of the 10m zone as applicable.

How should the referee manage players in front of the kicker who are inside the 10m for example a ‘box kick’ or an ‘up and under’?

  • Referees will call for players to move or retire!
  • The referee can use terms including ‘retire’, ‘back’, ‘10m’ or ‘move’. These terms should also be accompanied with a descriptor of colour, number or both.
  • It is difficult for the referee to manage these players as it usually happens quite quickly given it is a short kick. Management may be as simple as e.g. ‘back red’
  • Players must retire from within 10m of the receiver of a kick – an immediate penalty will be given where these players look to contest the kick! By even being present inside the 10m they are cutting down the options of the receiving team. Players inside the 10m should be strictly dealt with (there is no latitude).

What does all this mean and how should it be applied to the game?

  • Offside players who are advancing are cutting down options for counter attack and forcing the receiving team to kick as their first option. Referees must penalise offside and should no longer rely on continually verbally managing these players as by advancing they have already had an impact on play.
  • Offside players must be dealt with even when the ball looks like it will go into touch because a quick throw may be an option. Once the ball is in touch, offside no longer applies and offside players may move forward toward a lineout or where a quick throw is being attempted. This means these players can only advance once the ball has crossed the touch line.

Strong application of players offside at kicks has improved the time and space for teams to counter attack as evidence throughout the opening rounds of the 2011 Super Rugby season. A vigilant approach by referees to offside players can certainly have a positive outcome and contribute to open attacking rugby, something all spectators enjoy.

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