Friday, April 11, 2008

The sky is crying...

...look at the tears rolling down the street.

"Knowing these realities, [the RFU] must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. ...

"Understanding the threats of our time, knowing the designs and deceptions of the [Sanzar] regime, we have every reason to assume the worst, and we have an urgent duty to prevent the worst from occurring."

England lead crusade to stop ELVs

Friday April 11, 2008
By Chris Hewett
The Independent (via NZH)

Just in case the Rugby Football Union did not have enough on its plate at this late stage of the campaign - the imbroglio surrounding Martin Johnson and Brian Ashton; the complexities of the new accord between Twickenham and the Premiership clubs, which will be activated in July; the small matter of a two-Test trip to New Zealand in June - it is now involved in a serious battle for the sport's heart and soul.

And this time, the union is very definitely on the side of the angels.

Radical new laws - "Experimental Law Variations" in the language of the International Rugby Board, the body responsible for promoting them - are currently being tested in the Super 14.

Not all of them: even the Super 14 types, who have long dabbled with a form of rugby routinely condemned in northern climes as "candyfloss", refused to touch the more extreme ideas dreamed up by the board's Laws Project Group, chaired by Bill Nolan of Scotland.

But the whole set of ELVs, great and small - from awarding free-kicks rather than penalties for virtually every offence under the sun and allowing players to handle the ball in the ruck and collapse mauls with impunity, to rebranding the touchjudge as an "assistant referee" - have been fast-tracked on to the agenda for the next IRB gathering on May 1, and the RFU fears they will be imposed on the European game, initially on a trial basis but ultimately for good, from the start of next season.

"Once they're in, they'll never be allowed back out," said one very senior Twickenhamite.

Bluntly put, the RFU is passionately against the general thrust of the ELVs, which it believes will drive the maul from the game, undermine the importance of the scrum by forcing teams to select identikit forwards with no specialist set-piece skills and reduce the sport to the spitting image of rugby league, seasoned with a dash of seven-a-side - something that might suit the Australians, who have allowed their once all-powerful forward game to wither, but not England, who reached successive World Cup finals through the efforts of an outstanding pack.

The union is busily garnering support ahead of the May meeting, in the knowledge that ELV enthusiasts will need a two-thirds majority if the changes are to be foisted on the Premiership, the Heineken Cup and the Six Nations - not to mention the grass-roots game, where many thousands of players enjoy the sport they are already playing and show no desire for new-fangled ideas that threaten the very essence of the sport.

Wales and Ireland are thought to be with England. France, however, are being their usual mysterious selves on the rugby politics front, and there has been no clear declaration of intent from the Italians.

The RFU remain a couple of votes short of blocking the ELVs, hence the frenzied discussions now taking place with other unions.

Ed Morrison, the popular Bristolian who refereed the 1995 World Cup final in Johannesburg and is now the RFU's elite referee manager, is deeply concerned about the potential effect of the ELVs.

"I'm in love with the game we have," he said.

"It's important not to close the eyes to ways of improving something, even if it is already very special, but I start from the principle of maintaining the unique facets that make rugby union the sport we hold so dear."

The public relations scrap is now underway. Some of the biggest names in southern hemisphere coaching - Bob Dwyer, who guided the Wallabies to their 1991 World Cup success; Robbie Deans, the New Zealander who has succeeded John Connolly at the head of the Australian national team; John Kirwan, the former All Black wing now in charge in Japan - this week declared themselves fully in favour of the "new rugby".

On this side of the equator, no lesser a figure than Ian McGeechan of Wasps, a Lions head coach three times over with power to add, has taken the opposite view, arguing that if the current laws are refereed accurately and consistently, they are the best in the game's history.

And so the stage is set.

If the RFU is sufficiently persuasive, next season's Premiership and European rugby will retain its many virtues. If it is not, Super 14 will soon be coming to a rugby ground near you. In which case, we can all give up and go shopping.


So -- what's got the RFU and frightened English journalists' knickers in a twist...?

Check the latest International Rugby Board media release:

Remember 2004? The Genesis of ELV programme

Tuesday 8 April 2008

The IRB’s Laws Project Group (LPG) completed another successful milestone in late March when it met with representatives of all the 6 Nations Unions in London. The meeting was well attended and received by the Unions and in a positive environment the LPG detailed the specific aims and principles behind the trials and tabled comprehensive statistics that have been gathered over the last two years in the extensive practical trials around the world.

One often asked question is, “Why is the IRB reviewing the Laws of the Game?” It is certainly not for the sake of it. Rugby like many other sports is evolving. Rugby must take into account the changing needs of players, coaches and fans and stay relevant as the sporting environment changes with time.

The simple answer is: because the Member Unions themselves requested that the IRB look into the Laws of the Game. It must not be forgotten that the genesis of the ELV programme was the Conference on the Playing of the Game that was hosted by the IRB in January 2004 in Auckland following RWC 2003. It was attended principally by the national team coaches from participating teams at RWC 2003 and the the best Rugby minds from around the world.

The majority of the ELVs being trialled were proposed by the Unions themselves at the conference. For example the coaches requested that the IRB look at the potential to sack the maul, the opportunity for teams not to match numbers at the lineout, and turning penalties for technical offences into free kicks. Well, that is exactly what has, and is, happening presently with the IRB ELV programme.

Since 2005 the LPG has embarked on a journey that has entailed an extensive, unprecedented practical programme of trials of the ELVs in a number of competitions around the world.

ELV trials have taken place in France, Scotland, South Africa, Ireland, England, New Zealand and Australia at various levels of the Game. Presently the ELVs are being trialled at the professional end of the game in the Super 14 across the three SANZAR countries and in South Africa's Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup.

One of the key messages delivered by the LPG to the 6 Nations representatives on the ELVs is that the basic fabric of the game has remained unchanged. The data collected clearly shows that the set piece and contest for the ball, which define the Game, remain important elements. Indeed, there is a greater contest for the ball and a better chance to force turnovers.

The IRB has always stated that everything that is being trialled must, and will, relate to the Playing Charter that recognises Rugby as being a game for all shapes and sizes. The IRB has no desire whatsoever to change the traditional fabric of the game that has made it such a popular international sport.

Indeed this was a key target for the LPG at the outset of the ELV programme that had defined objectives:

• Provide greater clarity in terms of the Laws of the Game for players, coaches, referees and spectators
• Make the Game more enjoyable for all
• Players should determine the outcome of matches not the subjectivity of match officials

These key points were discussed during the meeting and the 6 Nations representatives also had the opportunity to question two Super 14 coaches on the ELV Super 14 trial: Dick Muir from the Sharks (South Africa) and Robbie Deans from the Crusaders (New Zealand).

The comments of the two high profile coaches reflect feedback from trials around the world that have thrown up some interesting and important results:

• The Game is fundamentally the same
• Matches have similar numbers of set pieces as the present Game
• The scrum is an important element of the Game
• Contest for possession is increased
• The ball is in play longer
• More tries are being scored
• Positive feedback from players and referees indicating how much they enjoyed playing under the ELVs

The IRB expects to receive feedback from the Unions on the meeting and the ELV findings in the next few weeks. The IRB Rugby Committee (to whom the LPG reports) will report on the ELVs to the next IRB Council meeting on May 1. At the Council meeting the progress of the ELV trials will be discussed and the global implementation of the ELVs at some point in the near future for a period of 12 months will be debated. If this one-year trial is agreed Council will then have to decide whether to ratify the ELVs at its meeting in November 2009 and accept them into Law.

ELV Trial Programme:

South Africa - Stellenbosch University hostel competition
Scotland - Scottish Super Cup
England - County Championship
France – Regional competition
Ireland – Under 20 Provincial competition
Australia - Sydney and Brisbane Club Championships
Australia – Australian Rugby Championship
New Zealand - Division B of the NZ provincial Championship
SANZAR – Super 14 Tournament
South Africa – Currie Cup, Vodacom Cup

Super 14 ELV Feedback:

Robbie Deans (Crusaders coach)
“I believe the ELVs are great for rugby and will make the game easier, more enjoyable to play and simpler. The game should cater for all shapes and sizes and the ELVs do this. They will also mean that players will influence the results of matches more so than referees. I am right behind the new law changes that are being used in this year's Super 14.”

Ewen McKenzie (Waratahs coach)
“I personally am very happy with the ELVs and it is obvious they have made a difference. We are still in a period of understanding for both players and referees and things will get even better. Anything that promotes ball movement is great, but on a note of caution, we must make sure we always safeguard the traditional elements of rugby.”

Rassie Erasmus (Stormers coach)
“Generally I don't have any problems with the ELVs. I think they are good for our game. But I am a little concerned about how some referees are handling the breakdown. I am pleased it is a free kick at the breakdown now, instead of a penalty. But this free kick should come quickly so there is continuity of the match. Some referees do award the free kick quickly and play then continues quickly, but some referees take too long.”

Schalk Burger (Springboks/Stormers)
“I think the ELVs have plenty of good potential, but it will take a lot of time before the players are completely used to them. The first couple of games I played under these new rulers caused me a few problems. In our first Super 14 game this year against the Bulls, the different refereeing at the breakdown worried me and I found it a bit of a shambles. But as time goes on I am adapting quite well. In time I believe rugby will be good to play and watch because there will be lots of turnovers and so plenty of chances to attack.”

Bob Dwyer (Former Wallaby coach)
“I think they are a good thing for rugby. I don't know why the Europeans have problems with them, as in the games that I have watched regularly from Europe this year, players often use a quick tap to try and catch the opposition out. That is what the new laws encourage, so if they give it a fair trial, the Europeans might see it will improve the game in their countries.”

John Kirwan (Japan National coach)
“I have been critical of the International Rugby Board at times in the past, but I firmly believe that they’re doing the right thing by trialling these Experimental Law Variations. In fact, I’m keen to see the ELVs implemented as soon as possible.”

IRB Laws Project Group:

Bill Nolan (IRB Council, Chair LPG)
Bill Beaumont (Vice Chairman IRB)
Dr Syd Millar (Former Chairman IRB)
Graham Mourie (IRB Rugby Committee Chairman)
Rod Macqueen (former Wallaby coach)
Pierre Villepreux (former international and French coach)
Richie Dixon (former Scotland coach)
Ian McIntosh (former Springbok coach)
Paddy O’Brien (IRB Referee Manager)
Bruce Cook (IRB Development Manager)
Dr Mick Molloy (IRB Medical Officer)


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