Bath welcomed Gloucester to the Recreation Ground on Sunday in a typical west-country derby full of passion, aggression and tight scores. It was Bath who came out on top as they continued their impressive season to date, with the boys in blue further cementing themselves in the fight for a playoff space.
Whilst it wasn’t the most thrilling display of rugby from either side, there were moments of magic that thrilled the cold Bath crowd. Will Muir’s grubber kick through the legs of Gloucester scrumhalf Caolan Englefield will forever go down as a golden moment between the two sides, with the rangy winger collecting the ball to touch down in the turning point of the match.
Bath ground out a 17-10 victory much to the delight of the home fans, but pundits have been arguably less enthusiastic about a certain aspect of Bath’s game plan. Whilst many have argued that top level sides need to interpret the laws in their favour to find the extra 1% that could alter the result in their favour, it has fallen under the general consensus that in doing so shouldn’t affect the quality of the game.
The act in question was Bath’s decision to remain in the opposition half during the process of kick tennis, in an attempt to put the receiver under pressure. In scenes that were reminiscent of England football’s Emile Heskey, it felt as if Bath were employing footballs ‘long ball’ strategy.
The law indicates that the receiving players need only run the ball five metres before the previously offside attackers are allowed to approach and then tackle them, meaning that the likes of Will Muir were allowed to remain within 10 metres of the Gloucester players receiving the ball.
Bath very in tune with the Dupont loophole that states you can advance from an offside position once a catcher has travelled five metres.
When Will Muir finally does get a charge-down, though, Gloucester benefit from the ricochet.
Please can we close the loophole? It’s trash. pic.twitter.com/PZAao1Spvk
— Charlie Morgan (@CharlieFelix) January 7, 2024
The major complaint from pundits is that, despite it being within the laws, it causes the receiving players to be put under more pressure which essentially encourages the return kick, as opposed to an exciting counter attacking run.
Suggestions have come in thick and fast as to how this problem is solved, but the overriding opinion is that the players in the open field must make a clear and obvious attempt to return to their kicker.
Fan, Tom Dennis, shared these opinions, stating on X: “Totally agree, and some of them were possibly 2-3 meters…. In a similar vein the chargedown right at the end of the clip seems wrong but totally legal.”
Mike Jones looked at it from a fans point of view, saying: “This is absolutely dire to watch. It’s no wonder fans are turning away in their 1000’s and clubs are going to continue to struggle. Surely absolutely no one wants to watch this, let alone pay to watch it”.
Even World Cup winning coach Jacques Nienaber added his two pence: “And this is what people don’t understand…..this episode of rugby is more than 1 min ball in play with nothing happening except the ball flying through the air. People thinking high ball in play = entertaining rugby”.
Former England Seven’s legend Rob Vickerman suggested a public apology be in order: “Can make a public apology to anyone who sees this as their first rugby clip?! That would be mind blowing!”