12 May 2015

Let's stop the Hooker's Shuffle

As a grass-roots referee, I want to see a safe and fair contest at the set piece. The scrum gets lots of attention, but the line-out is also a place of skullduggery.

Some teams consistently win their own lines through good throws, great timing and well executed drills. Others feel the need to add some insurance that takes away all possibility of a contest. It's sometimes said that the side that can't win its own line-outs can't win the match, so this can affect the outcome of important games. 

Here’s how it can happen:
  • a line-out is awarded to Red, at the mark made by the Assistant Referee
  • the referee marks the 5m line: either the line of touch, or where the players should stand, or both
  • the line-out players arrive and take up their positions; the Red hooker arrives, is handed the ball and a towel, dries the ball, listens to the call, confirms the call, discards the towel, and prepares to throw
  • often the AR moves to a different viewpoint, and the referee moves to the back of the line-out
  • Red hooker throws, ball won by Red
What's wrong with that? Blue didn't bother to compete, so why worry?
Simply, the hooker has been allowed to throw along a line (even if straight - who's checking?) that made it impossible for Blue to compete. Watch the hooker's feet after he receives the ball and first stands in the middle - each action includes a subtle shuffle, a boot-width, towards his own side. When he throws, it’s straight along his own players. There’s no contest: if Blue close the gap, that's a FK; if they cross the line of touch, offside (PK)

Normally line-out or scrum to Blue; however, if the referee judges the Red team to be standing on the line of touch (after all, their hooker is throwing along it!), FK for closing the gap.

There’s no fairness here: potential PK to Red versus Blue scrum (if offence is detected).

Solution - fix the line
Law 19.8(n) is specific – “Metre Gap: Each line of players must be half a metre on their side of the line of touch”. Nowhere does the Law allow the referee to say "Black, the line is yours" but this often happens.  Assistant Referees seem to have difficulty communicating the right place for the hooker to stand - often because the mark is ignored or conceded to one side or the other

This ploy spoils the game. 16 of every 30 players are forwards, and they should be allowed to compete as the Laws intend.

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