The opening weekend of the Six Nations has set us up for an intriguing championship, with at least an element of surprise in each of the three openers.
Nobody could have foreseen the utterly dominant manner of Ireland’s 21-point victory over France in Marseille on Friday night, while Italy and Wales both impressed in pushing England and Scotland close on Saturday afternoon.
Ireland are now firmly positioned as favourites for the title but the championship now looks far more open behind them thanks to the opening weekend’s Six Nations action.
Though there were surprises in the performance levels of some of the teams, nothing was surprising about a few worrying recent trends reemerging in all three games.
One of those was the inconsistent officiating of dangerous contact to the head, brought to the fore by Paul Willemse’s two yellow cards against Ireland on Friday.
Another is a recent trend of kick tennis dominating sections of games. Analysing the weekend’s Six Nations action on RTÉ’s Against the Head on Monday, Bernard Jackman broke down the issues with the current ruleset and how it can stifle the flow of games, while Donal Lenihan called for immediate change to the “ridiculous” officiating.
‘It’s madness’ – Jackman and Lenihan call out Six Nations kicking rules
Jackman took a segment of play from Wales’ home defeat to Scotland and broke down what he referred to as the “Dupont law,” a loophole in rugby’s kicking laws which allows players to exploit offside rulings to effectively pause play for a spell of kick tennis:
There hasn’t been a change in the laws but it’s called the Dupont law because a year-and-a-half ago Antoine Dupont, the French captain, went to the referee before the match.
He explained that on kick-tennis battles, they don’t actually have to retreat, they don’t have to be put onside, as long as they stay static. If the catcher of the ball runs five metres or throws a pass, then they’re onside.
It’s something the lawmakers are going to have to change.
The reason you kick back and forth is to tire out the front five…this is not a mark, yet it creates a natural break in play.
There was a game recently in the Premiership where there were 14 kicks back-and-forth, and everyone else in the middle of the field not having to move. That’s wrong.
But also, because they’re not having to move, it doesn’t open up the opportunity to counter-attack. Obviously, somebody could counter-attack, but they’re going to get turned over because all their players are behind the ball.
It’s very smart by Dupont and everyone else copying that but I think it’s an area that they’re going to have to change. We don’t want to see the ball just being kicked 50 metres, 50 metres…
In theory…could just stop there and as long as nobody moved you could just take a break in play. It’s madness.
Fans have become increasingly frustrated with the dependence on back-and-forth kicking in rugby in recent years, and the passage in play highlighted by Bernard Jackman only showcases how it can effectively bring the game to a halt.
‘It was smart by Dupont and everyone is copying it now, but it is an area that they (authorities) will have to change’ – @bernardjackman explains the ‘Dupont law’ and its impact on the game #AgainstTheHead pic.twitter.com/pG4OYkCZOM
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) February 5, 2024
In the clip used by Jackman to demonstrate his point, referee Ben O’Keeffe can be heard warning the players in the middle of the field not to encroach offside.
Alongside Jackman analysing the Six Nations’ opening weekend, Donal Lenihan said this trend has to stop.
Ex-Ireland captain Lenihan said that the referee’s job is not to coach teams away from conceding penalties and said that, if the trend of kick tennis is to become a regrettable part of rugby, players must be allowed to deal with it themselves:
It was always the case before that you had to retreat and then come again.
The second element, from my point of view – referees shouldn’t be coaching players on the field. If you’re going to give away a penalty, he can’t intervene to stop the opposition giving away a penalty. I think it’s ridiculous and they should be told to shut up and play to the laws. Don’t be coaching a team not to give away a penalty in the midst of the play.
Though not a new tactic, this style of kicking has certainly become far more prevalent in recent months and it will be fascinating to see how it impacts the remainder of the Six Nations.