When Courtney Lawes charged down that box kick in the dying minutes of the England v New Zealand game last Autumn, every English fan thought their team had snatched a rare victory against the All Blacks. The charge down set up a mesmerising side-step and thrilling try from an unlikely source in flanker Sam Underhill.
But no. As rugby fans are now all too well-accustomed, even when the referee awards a try on the pitch, it is best not to celebrate too early. The TMO checked (and re-checked) the footage and eventually ruled that Lawes was offside. The try was disallowed, and England lost 15-16.
This controversial offside decision divided the rugby community and has attracted much debate.
Laws after Lawes
In the wake of the Lawes decision and ahead of this year’s Six Nations, World Rugby has amended the Laws of the Game (“Laws”).
The change affects Law 15.4, with the definition of offside at a ruck now the hindmost ‘point’ rather the hindmost ‘foot’. The offside line:
‘runs parallel to the goal line through the hindmost point of any ruck participant.’
Previously, the Laws stated that the offside line:
‘runs parallel to the goal line through the ruck participants’ hindmost foot.’
There is also a subtle change in specifying ‘any ruck participant’. This seeks to clarify that offside at a ruck is determined by the player furthest back on the defensive side. It does not matter whether that player is from the defending or attacking team.
The changes to the definition will make the offside line more distinct for officials and players. There will be no need to assess which defender’s foot is furthest back. This can only be a positive step.