17 April 2014

Running down the clock.

In recent times teams have become more adept at running down the clock. Despite the introduction of the TMO, one of whose jobs is to manage the game clock over the eighty minutes and inform the referee when time is up at the half and at the end, the practice by teams has become even more cynical.

Most teams leading with a few minutes remaining want to slow the game down, keep the ball away from the opposition and allow the clock to run out. There is nothing wrong per sae with running down the clock as long as it is achieved within the laws and spirit of the game i.e. tactically and when the ball is in play.

At the moment it is often achieved within the laws of the game but not the spirit of the game. It is not unusual for teams to create numerous re-sets at the scrum, delay as long as possible throwing the ball into the line-out or take longer than normal to kick penalties to touch. All intended to run down the clock while the ball is actually out of play and denying the opposition the right to contest for possession in a timely fashion.

This time wasting was patently obvious in the Clermont V Leicester Heineken Cup quarter-final.

With less than one minute left of the clock Leicester, six points in arrears, were pounding the Clermont line in search of the winning score. Clermont’s were awarded a penalty when a Leicester player held onto the ball as Morgan Parra was poaching it.

It was the correct decision by referee Alain Rolland and Leicester could have no complaints that their player was isolated in possession. What happened next was the problem.

There were thirty-five seconds remaining on the clock when Rolland awarded the penalty to Clermont. Morgan Parra rolled around on the ground like he had just been mugged outside a nightclub. He managed to milk almost thirty seconds off the clock and was ably abetted by the other Clermont players who played hot potato with the ball pretending they were in the process of deciding who was going to kick the ball to touch.

Eventually Rolland stopped the clock with five seconds remaining and Jean-Marcelin Buttin stepped forward to kick the penalty to touch. Rolland restarted the clock and Buttin took the requisite five seconds to line up his kick. As the ball sailed across the touch-line for the line-out the match clock ticked into the red. The TMO called time and the game ended. Leicester were eliminated for the Heineken Cup.

This was grossly unfair on Leicester. When the penalty was awarded and thirty-five seconds remaining on the match clock there was adequate time for Clermont to kick to touch and Leicester to contest the ensuing line-out. It might have been a long shot that Leicester would steal the line-out and launch one more assault in an attempt to win the game.

But they were entitled to that shot, which Clermont denied them by running down the clock while the ball was out of play. Undoubtedly this denied Leicester the opportunity to compete at what should have been the final line-out of the game.

Instead the line-out never took place.

This particular incident just encapsulates the ever more prevalent practice of teams in the lead running down the match clock by keeping he ball out of play. It would also seem that the protocols around the stopping and starting of the game clock are pretty vague and left up to the Referee and TMO in these situations.

These protocols must be tightened up around clock management, particularly near the end of a game, and will continue to be abused by teams if left unchecked.

Maybe the clock being automatically stopped when the ball is out of play during the final five minutes of the game would eliminate the incentive for teams to unfairly run the clock down.

I’m sure Leicester would make the same argument.