With only five weeks to go until my club’s season steams into full action—I’ll be absent, getting married—it’s time to take a proper look at the thirteen Experimental Law Variations (ELVs).
The southern hemisphere sides are always given praise for their free-flowing style of rugby but careful analysis of the RWC 2007 final will show that England were the only side to cross the try-line, while South Africa were happy to fight a war of attrition, kicking themselves out of trouble and into the lead.
Credit has to go to the IRB for trying to spice up the game. In most cases, the idea is simply to get more tries scored in a game. Match officials will be able to help with difficult try decisions that cannot be determined either by the referee or on video replay.
In a similar vein, the corner posts are no longer considered to be touch-in-goal except when the ball is grounded against the post. Mark Cueto's try would not have been disallowed.
Further encouragement for teams to have a go at scoring tries comes in the areas of line-out and scrum. The IRB is looking to create space for attacking and counter-attacking teams. The quick throw-in need not be straight but can go towards the throwing team’s own goal line.
While in the scrum, the defending backs, with the exception of the scrum half, will have to be a full five metres behind the back foot of the scrum, allowing the attacking team a lot of space to get a head of steam and, especially, the fly-half to do more running and passing, being under less pressure simply to get the ball away.
A lot of this is based on removing the incentive to kick to touch. If the kick will result in an effective quick line-out producing a swift counter-attack, there’ll be less kicking into touch. Likewise, with pre-gripping and lifting officially permitted in the line-out, the side throwing-in will have a massive advantage against the side that kicked the ball into touch.
The IRB has emulated association football by removing the benefit from kicking from within the 22 if the ball has been passed back into it. This is really good news, since the midfield will once again become a playing ground rather than the awkward bit in between a team’s own goal line and getting into goal-kicking range.
Problems arise, however, now that sides are disincentivised to maul. Mauling is a good, manly part of rugby. Great to get involved in and really exciting to watch when executed effectively. A well-executed maul can lead to fantastic attacking running, once the defence has been sucked-in.
Permitting sides to pull down a maul could kill the maul for good, limiting the dimensions of the game. It is perhaps for this reason that local pub punters say the Tri-Nations looks more like netball this year than rugby. What is needed here are better rules to make mauls move and stronger application of existing laws.
As an Englishman, I have to be happy with the ELVs because with them, either South Africa would have played attractive rugby in the final (as they did in earlier games) or the English would have won the game.
My hope, now, is that Coach Bailey has read-in the implications of these provisional rule changes and leads Old Street up yet another division this season.