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The fact that they were called on it was gratifying to me personally – not because I think Cal has been offside all season or anything like that; it was because I think just about everybody is offside. All the time.
One of the aspects of play in the higher levels, less so in colleges but more important in the pros and internationals, is the offside line. If we want rugby games to be entertaining; if we want to see teams with the ball formulate some attacking moves and play rugby that involves more than two steps forward and a clash of bodies, we have to allow for space.
The simplest, it seems to me, way to ensure this comes back to the top games, is to enforce the offside line at the ruck. Technically, the offside line is behind the back foot of the ruck. But that’s rarely enforced, because referees have decided, perhaps rightly, that one leg splayed out the back of a ruck doesn’t constitute the back foot.
Still, even if you count the back foot as the back foot of anyone standing, the offside line is not regularly enforced. Watch top games, you will see it. Defenses are level with the back foot, often even in front of them. They should be behind, not level.
Now, you might say that I am being pedantic. You might say that a few extra inches isn’t going to open up the game that much. You may be right. But I’d like to see officials try. I’d like there to be a laws clarification that says behind the back foot means daylight between the front of your boot and the back of the ruck. I’d like to see assistant referee work harder to police it.
And most important of all, perhaps (and a topic for another column), I’d like to see the offside line policed equally for all teams (too many times have I seen a Tier II nation penalized for offside when an equally guilty Tier I opponent goes unpenalized).
Good teams are smart enough to know that if one of them is offside, that’s
possibly a penalty, but if everyone is offside in a nice orderly line,
there the ref may let it go.
I’d like to see offside on rucks and mauls penalized more. It is, to me, one of the most easily-remedied issues that can contribute to shutting the game down.
Will an extra few inches, an extra split second, and a few added penalties open up the game? I think so, but I recognize we can’t know until we try it. So let’s try it.