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Six Nations: A 'what not to shout' guide for the filthy casual or rugby noob in your life

By Paul Smith
(Photo by PA)

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The Six Nations is almost upon us and with all 15 matches shown on free-to-air TV in Britain and Ireland, rugby for the next seven weeks temporarily closes the gap on football in the nation’s sporting affections. For countless thousands of armchair fans who see tennis once a year in July when the BBC screens Wimbledon and horse racing only on Grand National day this is the moment when rugby takes its turn in the shop window.


The viewing audience – which for Sky or BT Sport-screened Autumn Internationals usually numbers a few hundred thousand – extends to several million and as a consequence draws spectators to club rugby at all levels and stimulates children to play the game.

But since our sport has complex laws (and no rules!) which change with great regularity, these casual viewers often struggle with the detail. Among them are plenty whose playing days ended in the fifth form for whom the 2022 Six Nations bears only a passing resemblance to rugby as it was played and refereed in the 1980s or 90s.

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With a nod to those who will be sharing a sofa and a pot of tea or a few pints and a giant screen in a pub with some of these ‘Six Nations rugby occasionals’ RugbyPass refereeing expert Paul Smith has chosen his six ‘Most Shouted at the TV’ moments for some further explanation.

“Why is it never thrown down the middle of the lineout?”
Because it isn’t required to be.

The player throwing in has to stand in the middle of the lineout on what is known as ‘the line of touch.’ The referee usually then scratches two marks five metres in from the touchline half-a-metre on either side of this point.

All remaining participants in the lineout other than the two scrum-halves line up on their own side of these scratch marks leaving a metre gap between their inside shoulders.


The ball has to be thrown into this gap, but necessarily right down the middle.

“Why doesn’t he make them put the ball in the middle of the scrum?”
Because for the last few years that hasn’t been a requirement.

The scrum-half that throws the ball in must align his/her left shoulder with the point where the front rowers’ shoulders meet.

Assuming the No9 bends directly forward and releases the ball in a straight line (at 90 degrees to the line of his shoulders) it will then be half the width of his/her body closer to his own front row than it is to the opposition.


If it goes in at an angle closer to 45 degrees than 90, ends up in his team’s second row without the hooker striking and a free-kick isn’t awarded feel free to resume shouting at the TV!

“You can’t be offside in the in-goal area”
Yes…you can.


Scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls cannot take place in goal therefore offside lines relating to these also do not exist.

Hence, when a tackle takes place very close to the try-line and the defending side subsequently forms a ruck in which the ball ends up on the line or in goal there is nothing to stop an attacking player running around the side of the ruck and diving on it to score a try.

However, offside applies to open play all over the pitch and this very much does include the in-goal area.

For example, if a player knocks on deep in his/her own in-goal and a teammate in front of this point plays the ball he/she is offside.

And should a player kick from deep in his/her own in-goal area, any teammates in front of him/her who chase the kick are offside.

“That can’t be foul play – he didn’t mean to do it”
Or more commonly based on my feed: “the game’s gone soft” and/or “I wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes playing with these laws” and/or “this referee has clearly never played rugby.”

By way of background… a lot of work went into the prevention of head injuries as a result of which a working party including prominent players, coaches and referees came up with the current head contact protocol.

Intent is therefore NOT a factor that the officials are required to consider when dealing with head contact.

Instead, they are instructed to consider if the perpetrator was reckless and if he/she displayed due care and attention in his/her approach. Put another way, could the player reasonably have foreseen that his/her actions might cause contact with the head?

For example, if a player swings an arm at shoulder rather than waist height far less of the picture has to change for it to subsequently smash into the ball carrier’s head.

And when a player fails to bend into a tackle a clash of heads becomes more likely.

“That’s not a try – the ball carrier has lost control of the ball”
In deciding if a try is scored only two things are relevant.

Firstly, the ball must stay in continuous contact with the attacking player’s hands, arms or torso (but not head or legs) from the first instant he/she begins the grounding process to the point at which it hits the ground.

This applies to a player who carries the ball into in-goal or dives on a bouncing ball that is in the air when first touched.

It can roll backwards from (say) hand to armpit but providing there is no separation the try is awarded. By contrast, should the ball carrier drop the ball directly downwards then ground it a try is not scored.

Secondly, some downward pressure must be present in the act of grounding the ball. This is especially relevant if the attacker dives on a ball that is loose on the ground in goal.

Should he push it forward with his fingertips touching the side of the ball a try is therefore not scored.

But having control is not a consideration.

“He was trying to catch that ball not to deliberately knock it forward”
Law-makers have agreed that almost every unsuccessful attempt to make a one-handed interception should be deemed a deliberate knock-on.

This is because they believe it is much less likely that a player at full stretch and top speed will be able to hold on when using one hand rather than two.

The very occasional exception to this is when a player juggles several times and clearly makes a concerted effort to keep the ball off the ground before knocking on.

By contrast, a two-handed knock-on will only be deemed deliberate when the perpetrator clearly deliberately slaps the ball forwards.

A penalty is awarded for a deliberate knock-on but it is NOT automatically a yellow card or penalty try offence – this is determined by the potential of the attacking opportunity which it thwarts.


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