Tuesday, March 04, 2008

ELVs: Rush to Judgment

Corrected and updated (below):

I'm still sitting on the fence waiting to make a "final decision" about the ELVs (Experimental Law Variations) being applied in the first three rounds of the Super 14.

So far, I have been enjoying the games, but then I enjoy watching kiwi rugby, and the Kiwis have been flying in the first three rounds. (The Crusaders and Blues are both 3-0, including half-ton asskickings of South African sides in the Republic in front of massive crowds.)

The Northern Hemisphere doesn't like the new laws, perhaps mostly because they play a style of rugby similar to the South Africans, dominated by fatties who're now running out of puff under the ELVs as those new rules are so-far translating into far fewer extended rest breaks.

I say it's still early days -- some things I like; others I don't -- and think I'll exercise a seasons' worth of perspective before drawing a line in the sand. What I have seen so far is still a huge physical contest at the scrum, maul and breakdown, so accusations that the sport has suddenly become Rugby League are wildly speculative and ill-founded.

Of all the criticisms of the ELVs I've read in the past few days, I find the perspective of Mark Keohane -- a writer I ordinarily respect -- Keo staffer Ryan Vrede as perhaps the lamest and most bewildering:

But why should South Africa and those Home Unions be branded as anti-evolutionists for possessing strengths that are different? [...]

For fear of being branded a conservative who is content to see the game stagnate as it has over the last decade, it is my personal view that the game needs to evolve. However, when that evolution compromises the traditional strengths of certain teams while favouring others - serious concerns have to be voiced.

From a backline perspective, South Africa and the Home Unions have never been able to compete with the intellectual capital in Australia and particularly New Zealand. That has been patent over the first three rounds of the Super 14, as the leading Australasian teams have already devised plans to best utilise the 10m between their launch point and the defensive line at scrum time, while South African franchises continue to predictably bash it up with the No 8, effectively losing 5m of space. For the Crusaders, Blues and Hurricanes quick taps have been viewed as a phase rather than unstructured play and their attacking alignment is similar to what it looks like if it was a set phase. In contrast, South African franchises gamble in the hope that they’ll find space to exploit.

Bolded text - mine. Intellectual capital? I say if Keohane Vrede recognizes this, then I'm pretty sure that South African coaches and players are more than capable of studying the game film and figuring it out likewise.

For Vrede's entire commentary at Keo, click here.

Update: As above, mea culpa, my apology to Mark Keohane. He remains a writer I continue to respect.


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