All the latest from the world of rugby
December 2, 2009
Posted by Huw Baines on 12/02/2009
Paul Rees speculates as to what the IRB can do with the repeated calls for changes to the laws of the game in The Guardian.
"Another year, another review panel to recommend law changes. The nervous breakdown strategy adopted by sides in response to a directive to referees to give more latitude to defenders after a tackle has prompted the International Rugby Board to look at ways of encouraging teams to attack, although any changes will not be implemented until after the 2011 World Cup unless there are medical grounds for quicker reform.
"The IRB will set up a panel early next year to review the state of the game, conscious that a problem with the experimental law variation process was that it was largely southern-hemisphere inspired and gained only the support of Scotland in Europe. This time the IRB wants a consensual approach, even if that increases the danger of nothing happening.
"Australia and New Zealand on the weekend showed that the try is not yet an endangered species in international rugby, but the four the Wallabies scored in Cardiff all started when Wales had the ball. The All Blacks under Graham Henry, until this year, had been the masters at exploiting turnover possession but they became more conservative after running at South Africa turned them into roadkill."
November 26, 2009
Posted by Huw Baines on 11/26/2009
Told you so
According to Peter Bills in The Irish Independent, the northern hemisphere cannot blame the IRB for the current state of rugby.
"The gnashing of teeth and loud wailing from on high among certain members of the Fourth Estate based in the northern hemisphere about the state of the game must be inducing complete bewilderment around the offices of the IRB in Dublin.
"A hue and cry has started, a cause celebre begun. What have those wicked witches at the IRB done to OUR game, they wail? A try has become as rare as a full river in drought-stricken central Australia, games are being kicked to death by the fear factor.
"It's all the fault of the IRB; they've done nothing, sat on their hands and just let the game descend into its current mess. Terrible, terrible people, shouldn't be in charge of a chip shop, never mind a world sport. Huff, huff...
"Of course, by never letting the facts get in the way of a good story, these gentlemen of the profession are able to circumnavigate a few rather important points. In the process, they are also rewriting history."
October 2, 2009
Posted by Huw Baines on 10/02/2009
Ball in hand
The winning/entertainment debate sparked by Saracens' unbeaten start to the Premiership season is tackled by Paul Rees in The Guardian.
"English club rugby has never been better supported but, as a new wave of spectators is attracted to it, so they have less regard for the nuances of a complex game. Saracens were last Sunday striving to make their best start to a Premiership campaign and go top of the table but, after they indulged in another bout of aimless kicking with Gloucester in the second half, a large section of the crowd booed.
"Saracens went on to win but the unhappy supporters were looking to see the ball in hand and therein lies the problem. The first month of the Premiership campaign has been played in largely dry and sunny conditions but few games have flowed and tries have been at a premium. Only two sides, London Irish and Northampton, have recorded try bonus points, with the bottom club, Leeds, twice the victims. Five of the 12 sides in the table are averaging less than a try a game, with only Irish, Northampton and Wasps, who were unusually try-shy last season, returning more than two tries a match.
"Whereas the 2007-08 Premiership campaign was notable for a greater sense of adventure than was traditionally associated with the English game, the start of last season was blighted by a combination of the experimental law variations and a refereeing crackdown at the breakdown that left sides reluctant to move the ball in their own half for fear of being caught in possession and penalised."
April 11, 2009
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/11/2009
A little bit of history repeating
Steve Deane, writing in The New Zealand Herald, sees similarities in the current ELV debate to those which spawned rugby league in 1895.
"We've seen it before, this fundamental philosophical divide over the future of rugby. We didn't see it first-hand last time, of course, because none of us were alive in 1895, when 22 northern English clubs took their balls home and went off to form what is now league.
"But rugby has certainly experienced the same geographically based, economically driven divide we are seeing today.In 1895, the dispute was over player payments and the formation of competitive leagues. Battle lines were drawn along a north-south divide and along class lines. Almost 114 years later, not a lot has changed.
"This time it is the south, in the form of the Southern Hemisphere, that is being driven by economic necessity to push for changes to the game; to back the adoption of the experimental law variations (ELVs). It may be the north that is resisting but, with the Northern Hemisphere lobby headquartered squarely in London, it's really just a recycled version of the 1895 southern toffs who are doing their damnedest to fend off change."
April 6, 2009
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/06/2009
A ghoulish farce
Brian Moore continues to rejoice at the demise of the ELVs in his column for The Daily Telegraph.
"All but two substantive law changes have been sent to the abyss. From conception to abortion, the law-change experiment has been a ghoulish farce which has harmed the image of rugby. That it caused mirth from other sports is not as important as the fact that it caused active hatred between genuine supporters of the game. This sort of destabilising and divisive exercise must never happen again.
"Any law variations attempted in the future should have strict criteria for their introduction, framing, trialling and evaluation.
"The International Rugby Board's internal group with the nebulous brief to "improve the game" should be disbanded or given stricter guidelines. At present, and similar to the Commission for Racial Equality, they have to find problems in order to exist; with the Experimental Law Variations they did just that."
April 3, 2009
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/03/2009
Slow on the uptake
Wasps coach Shaun Edwards, writing in The Guardian, muses on the impact that the ELVs had on their disappointing season.
"This is a strange feeling. We are barely into April and Wasps have no silverware to play for. After six seasons of winning something, we handed back our Premiership title at Bath on Wednesday night. European qualification is still to play for but the probability is that it will be the Challenge Cup rather than the Heineken Cup for us next season.
"That means Toulon rather than Toulouse, Connacht rather than Munster or Leinster. For a side that has won the Heineken twice and started the season ranked among Europe's top six clubs, that hurts and over the next few weeks we'll try to work out what to do about it and why it happened.
"Why were we a better side results-wise when our internationals were away? Without them we averaged three points a game. Why did we score 60-plus tries last season and only 20-plus so far this?
"Closer analysis will no doubt throw up other issues but it has long been blindingly obvious that one of the major reasons for our discomfort is that we started the season poorly and were nowhere near the pace of the Baths and Harlequins when it came to the delights of the ELVs or rather the ways in which they would be refereed."
April 2, 2009
Posted by Huw Baines on 04/02/2009
Ruck and maul
Inga Tuigamala, writing in The New Zealand Herald, shows his disappointment at the re-introduction of the rolling maul into international rugby and suggests that rucking be reinstated to clear up the breakdown.
"Any rucking has to involve the player driving forward and removing players on the ground with a backward motion of the feet. It can't involve static players stamping directly down. Players would have to be told very clearly what rucking meant, and the penalties for not doing it correctly.
"A big point about the impact of rucking is that it discourages players from illegally slowing the ball down in the first place because they know the consequences of getting their bodies or hands in the wrong place.
"As for the rolling maul, I would hate to see it re-emerge. Teams that become very proficient at rolling mauls are almost unstoppable, but it is a boring sight and goes against the whole ethos of trying to make rugby an entertaining game.
"It's a tactic that England excel at and maybe the northern hemisphere's opposition to the experimental rules indicates it would feel disadvantaged by them compared to the southern hemisphere teams, where players such as Richie McCaw (left) have thrived under the new rules."
March 31, 2009
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/31/2009
ELVs have had their fun but don't deserve fairytale ending
The motives behind the ELVs were genuine, but the outcome spectacularly unsuccessful according to Wynne Gray in the New Zealand Herald.
"Rugby lost its way and a fair chunk of its soul when rucking was eliminated. The dynamic attacking action which encouraged continuity was considered too dangerous, both for players caught lying near the ball and in the battle for parental approval.
"The game became even more emasculated when the ELVs arrived and with them an obsessive desire to speed the game up with free kicks. Some ideas had merit like the 5m gap behind scrums and players not being allowed to kick the ball out on the full outside the 22m line.
"However, the greatest crime was reducing rucks to some sort of scrabblefest while the referee resembled someone blindfolded at a children's party trying to pin the tail on the donkey. Add to that approval for a minority of defenders to pull down rolling mauls and the game quickly lost its mojo and many of the facets which delivered its uniqueness."
March 30, 2009
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/30/2009
ELVs' zealots are a law unto themselves
Former England international Brian Moore argues that just because you do not agree with all the ELVs does not mean you don't understand the game. Read his views in the Daily Telegraph.
"Finally, the most disingenuous and thus most objectionable ploy perpetrated the proponents of the ELVs is to say that those opposed 'do not understand rugby'. We do understand, we just do not agree.
"This claim is the last refuge of many a Turner Prize winner, dismissing criticism of their pile of rubbish as not being true art. It is the last desperate defence against those who see the Emperor's new clothes for what they really are. As I have been held up as one of those least understanding, especially by the Australian journalist Spiro Zavos, I ask this: who is likely to have a greater understanding of the game – someone who has played schoolboy, university, students, under-23, B, junior club, senior club, divisional, Hong Kong Sevens, international, British Lions, Five Nations and World Cup rugby; who has played and won, home and away, against every major international board country, or someone who may have played a bit and watched a lot?"
March 29, 2009
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/29/2009
Rugby world unites to drive out ELVs
Rugby union is set to abandon nearly all the radical experimental law variations (ELVs) that have been trialled this season, according to Stephen Jones in the Sunday Times.
"Since their introduction to international rugby in the summer of 2008, there has been widespread criticism of the ELVs from players and coaches in the northern hemisphere. However, it now appears that the demand for them to be scrapped stretches across the rugby world.
"Our investigation of all the major unions indicates that among the experiments to be rejected is the measure allowing mauls to be collapsed, which has left the field packed with defenders; the “sanctions” experiment, trialled Down Under and fervently espoused by Australia, under which almost all penalties become free kicks; and the change by which teams can place as many players as they like in the lineout. The Rugby Football Union has described this last-named intervention as “messy, and leading to more kicking”."
March 27, 2009
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/27/2009
ELVs are strangling the game they are meant to be promoting
Rugby's lawmakers are finding support for the new laws is dwindling in the northern and even southern hemispheres according to Shaun Edwards in the Guardian.
"Rugby's lawmakers are in town this weekend. Armed with a pile of statistics, they hope to win a few converts to the experimental law variations that have been in force up here since the start of the season. I can't say I wish them luck – and I don't know many who do.
"...The southern hemisphere guys who are in London this weekend will no doubt produce figures that show the ball is in play longer since the introduction of the ELVs. What they won't show is the time it spends in mid-air or buried under a pile of bodies and there are signs of such growing dissatisfaction that a move to throw the whole lot on the rubbish tip could be brewing with England, Wales and Ireland leading the way and South Africa, never a total convert, putting a little distance between themselves and the main supporters, Australia and New Zealand."
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/27/2009
Rucking will help sort out the mess
The continuing emasculation of forward play is the worst part about the modern game according to Wynne Gray in the New Zealand Herald.
"Every breakdown is a mess. Players who venture into that area are off their feet, coming in at angles, taking players out without the ball, playing the ball with their hands, releasing possession when support arrives rather than immediately - the offences are widespread.
"Players sense they have freedom to lie all over possession. A free kick is a minor concession or punishment while teammates regroup on defence in a single line across the park.
"Lawmakers have made rucking so hazardous they may as well have banned it. Rugby has suffered subsequently. There were hints the IRB had recognised the flaw, but getting them into action would be like asking both hemispheres to use the ELVs at the same time."
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/27/2009
SA all the way
South Africa lead the way in this year's Super 14 and the ELVs are definitely working for them, writes Phil Wilkins on rugbyheaven.com.au.
"Led by European conservatives, argument has raged about the experimental law variations, essentially because their critics maintain that running rugby will bring about the demise of the big men, seriously threatening the massive-forward dominated game of the Six Nations tournament, with its crowds and riches.
"If the rise of teams full of gazelles was their fear, consider the two leading Super 14 teams - the unbeaten Bulls and the Durban-based Sharks, with five wins from six games.
"The player who crushed the Hurricanes, with five All Blacks in their pack, was the 118kg second-rower Bakkies Botha. His hand-to-hand combat power was immense. The Hurricanes believed they could out-run the Bulls. They scored two tries to one, but Jason Eaton's try came after the siren, the 19-14 scoreline flattering the hosts. Nobody left with any delusions about which team deserved the laurels. The Bulls' defence, especially in their own quarter, was ruthlessly magnificent.
"And this was a Bulls team without the world's finest lineout forward, the South African Test captain Victor Matfield, and the game's most lethal winger, Bryan Habana."
March 25, 2009
Posted by Huw Baines on 03/25/2009
The ELVs stink
Eddie Butler believes that the ELVs can finally be shown to be harming the game after the Six Nations, in his blog for The Guardian.
"I have a friend who is an economist, whose job it is to study numbers, compile data and analyse figures. He is an expert in statistics and his advice is: never trust them. They can be used to support whatever his clients wish.
"There is no doubt that the International Rugby Board will have a mass of statistical evidence to prove that its brainchildren, the Experimental Law Variations, have been good for us. It will reel off ball-in-play times that will support their introduction.
"This will be an exercise in saving face. We should not believe a word they say. The ELVs stink. They were designed by people with nothing but positive intentions in mind, their brief being to make the game better to play, simpler to watch and easier to referee.
"They have had the opposite effect. Kicking from hand has returned to the prominence it enjoyed in the days when you could kick to touch on the full from anywhere and claim the territorial advantage. The breakdown has become a hands-on, hands-in mess. The ball may be in play for longer but it spends its time in the air or wedged at the bottom of a pile-up."
February 1, 2009
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/01/2009
Rules of engagement
After, 15 games, the Six Nations will be able to show their tournament is something not to be tampered with, says Brendan Fanning in the Irish Independent.
"With this Six Nations we are putting rugby's ELVs into our most glamorous shop window. In March, there will be another all-in conference of interested parties, followed then by each union going away and fixing on a position, and lastly in May, after the IRB have put heaven and earth into saving face, the decision will be taken on what is to be bought and what is to be binned.
"If you were to take a punt now, you'd say that the game next season won't look a whole lot different to the way it looks now. North of the equator -- critically -- we never got on board at any serious level with the horrendous 'free kick fits all' sanction, so we won't have to wear that in the future. There's a reasonable chance too that the maul will go back to the way it was, though with a stipulation that it be refereed as a maul and not a piece of industrial machinery that starts and stops and starts again."
January 10, 2009
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/10/2009
Trials lead to chaotic results
Writing in the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley argues whichever ELVs are adopted universally the fear must be that the game will not necessarily be the better for it.
"Let's face it, rugby has become a little boring this season, hasn't it? There are still some cracking games, and both the refereeing of the vexed ELVs (Experimental Law Variations) and the pre-season protocol about penalising players for going to ground has calmed down, along with some of the initially irate reactions to them. But much of the rugby is simply not as good to watch as last season.
Confusion also reigns, not least among supporters, who can scarcely understand or even recognise the sport from a season ago. This is because last April the governing body's council voted to trial 13 of the 33 ELVs at the outset of the current season...Then, just to muddle things further, at the outset of this season the IRB issued their "protocol" to crack down on players not staying on their feet (liberally if inconsistently applied) and crooked feeds at scrum time (largely ignored).
"Confused? We certainly ought to be. Perhaps, in hindsight, it would have been better if the IRB had ensured the global game had actually moved forward universally and simultaneously in adopting all the ELVs in their entirety."
January 7, 2009
Posted by Huw Baines on 01/07/2009
ELVs here to stay?
Writing in The Independent, Peter Bills puts forward his belief that the ELVs are here to stay.
"Clear signs are emerging that the rugby dice appear to be falling in favour of adopting most of the ELVs at the IRB Council’s meeting on the vexed issue in May.
"It is my firm understanding that the five leading countries of the world – New Zealand, South Africa, France, Australia and England – are ready to vote for most of the proposals when the matter is discussed by the IRB Council.
"As things stand, it is chiefly the Celtic countries, Ireland, Wales and Scotland that are standing out against making the proposals law. Of these, Wales are seen as crucial in possibly being drawn to the side of those in favour. If the Welsh succumb, then Ireland and Scotland will be lost, isolated and certain to be defeated on the issue."
December 24, 2008
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/24/2008
ELVs threaten worldwide split
Will rugby union witness another seismic split in 2009, this time between the northern and southern hemispheres? Peter Bills writes in the Independent.
"Australian Rugby Union Chief Executive John O’Neill might say some outrageous things at times, but the game is a fool if it fails to heed his words. O’Neill runs a sport surrounded by rivals – rugby league, Aussie Rules, basketball and swimming to mention just a few. Trying to make a quid or two among that sort of competition requires ingenuity, cunning and above all, a highly desirable product.
"Entertainment, in case you forgot, became an essential requirement of rugby union the minute this sport opted to take the professional road. It meant it was entering the entertainment business and it needs to do just that, entertain."
December 20, 2008
Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/20/2008
Final verdict on elvs may cause major split
Tony Ward joins the debate on the ELVs and although he is in favour of the process he is not sure if everyone is committed to the cause. Read his thoughts in the Irish Independent.
"Unfortunately, at this mid-point in the season, I concede the knock-on impact has been dire. It is the beauty of the trial process that we quickly get to see what works and what doesn't. So while the maul is still some way akin in excitement to watching paint dry, it is a necessary evil which must remain.
"The alternative is what we are now witnessing week in, week out, whereby less bodies committed at the breakdown represents increased traffic across the park. Welcome to the world of aerial ping-pong."