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.
To view the Experimental Law Variations which are being trialled click here.
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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