By TOBY ROBSON in London - Stuff.co.nz
School was in today and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw gave a master class on the breakdown.
For the four reporters present it was like a university tutorial from a teacher with a PHD in openside play, with honours.
The way McCaw sees it, the breakdown's just not that complicated.You get there first, grab the ball and hold on for dear life despite your body being subjected to all sorts of unthinkable agony.
If you can do that, he reckons, then you deserve to come away with the ball.
The IRB this week ratified a rule change that says if the first arriving defending player gets his hands on the ball before a ruck is formed, he can legally carry on playing it.
Probably best to let McCaw explain the rest.
"The problem before was it was open to interpretation by the ref. So if you got their first and there was no-none from the other team then it's not a ruck so you can play the ball.
"As soon as someone touches you it's a ruck, so what's was happening is some refs would allow you to keep playing it because you were there first and perhaps should have won it.
"Other refs would say the guy on the ground had released it almost immediately, but had held it just along enough for a ruck to form. So you had a go and didn't win it and the ref said hands off.
"That was where a lot of inconsistencies were, just through the referee's interpretations.
"So what they said was simple. If you are there first and you get your hands on it then you probably should have won it. Even if the ruck forms you don't have to make that judgement, you just carry on playing it."
However, McCaw now believes further clarifications need to be made to ensure players stay clearly on their feet while trying to play the ball.
"It would mean more accuracy. There are guys who sort of lie on the player on the ground and look like they are on their feet. There has to be, I think, a genuine attempt to get the ball while you are on your feet. That would help.
"At least if you know if you are on your feet, you've had a crack and you can carry on going. It rewards good play. If you are there first you get a chance to play."
He believes keeping players on their feet would also allow the attacking team a fair chance of clearing defenders out at the ruck.
"I do it too. You try to get a lot lower, but you can't use someone else's weight to rest on. You get a guy who leans with his hands on the ground.
"If a guy's down there you can't move him. You try and come and try to clean him out it's pretty hard to move him."
If a side is going forward at the contact area, McCaw reckons you should probably be able to win the ball legally.
"The advantage line is a big indicator at the breakdown I believe. If you are going forward, then probably seven out of ten times you should get the ball back and if you haven't there is probably infringing.
"If you get knocked over behind the advantage line then slow ball is going to come from that because your forwards have to come back, so there's more chance of a turnover."
McCaw doesn't profess to have all the answers and is the first to say the referee's job is almost impossible due to the speed of the collision point.
"I don't know the answers either. If you are going to make it a genuine contest there is going to be a bit of interpretation."
McCaw does not think he's ever been picked on by referees and believes his record proves he is no cheat.
"I go through all my games and if I give away more than two penalties at a breakdown I've got it really wrong."
If there's one that's fifty-fifty and one that I got wrong I sort of accept that might be right, but that's about finding the line.
"If you keep doing it [you are stupid]. I've never had that sort of situation. You might get the odd one with three in a game, but that's a bad day for me.
"There's no point arguing with the ref if he's going to get you for something that you think is legal… you might as well make a change."
RICHE'S BREAKDOWN BREAK DOWN
"I don't think the breakdown is that complicated. What complicates it is it happens so fast bang that's where it becomes hard for the ref.
"The real rules of the breakdown are the tackle player must release and if he gets to his feet he can pick it up from any angle provided there hasn't been a ruck.
"As soon as one player from each team arrive and are joined that's a ruck and there's no hands. If you arrive through the gate from the opposition you can pick the ball up. That's as simple as it is."