‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’

2009-01-09 00:00

THIS week, Saracens coach Eddie Jones, the former Wallaby coach and assistant to Jake White at the World Cup, lambasted the new ELVs (Experimental Law Variations) for spoiling the game.

Jones was referring to the Saracens versus Gloucester game at the weekend where penalties decided the outcome. He did not blame the referee, but rather took a swipe at the administrators for enforcing variations to the laws at the highest level and not gradually phasing certain changes in. I must agree.

The referees do not know what to blow for any more or who to penalise first at the breakdown.

What referees watch out for is not what is important from a coach’s point of view. There seem to be strong differences in the interpretations of the laws between different nationalities of referees too.

The ELVs were introduced to the international community after the 2007 World Cup. In my opinion the laws were very well applied and refereed in the World Cup and needed very little tinkering with, if any. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There have been so many applications of the ELVs it would seem important to examine some of the laws being used at the IRB at the moment.

1. Law 6 — Match Officials

Assistant referees are now able to assist the referee in any way the referee requires. Which I think is great and has been in practice for the last couple of years at all levels of the IRB anyway.

2. Law 17 — Maul

You are now allowed to join the maul at the correct angle and you may legally collapse the maul by pulling it down in the correct manner. If there was any law that needed changing this was the one.

It has long been the frustration of coaches worldwide as to how to stop a rolling maul.

3. Law 19 — Touch and lineout

If a team puts the ball back into its own 22 and the ball is subsequently kicked directly into touch, there is no gain in ground. This has put a lot of emphasis on tactical kicking and has broadened the skills of the backline players.

A quick throw-in may be thrown in straight or towards the throwing team’s own goal-line. This has added value to the game as a spectacle.

There is now no restriction on the number of players from either team who can participate in the lineout. This has always been a nightmare for a referee to adjudicate.

Lineout players may now pre-grip a jumper before the ball is thrown in. Also something that was very hard to officiate under the old laws.

The lifting of lineout players is now permitted. Something South Africa has done for the past 30 years.

4. Law 20 — Scrum

The introduction of an offside line five metres behind the hindmost feet of the scrum is the most influential change to the laws of the game. The idea behind this change was to create more space for the backs to launch an attack, much as the 10 metres rule at the lineout has done. In my opinion very little has come of it and you hardly ever find a referee penalising a team for infringing this law.

Fundamentally we have kept the structures that make rugby unique like the scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls. But if the lawmakers had their way, the game could have looked a lot different.

Here are some of the ELVs that were not approved by the IRB:

•Allowing players on their feet to play the ball with their hands at the breakdown/rucks (imagine what Australia would be like to play against).

•To give a free-kick in place of a scrum when the ball becomes unplayable at the breakdown.

•To make all free-kicks tap kicks, including a mark taken from a kick.

•Allowing players to tackle a maul in order to stop it.

•A free-kick for throwing in skew at a line out.

If these changes were brought in we would hardly see scrums and lineouts and would be better off playing Rugby League. In the Super 14 we will see penalties at the breakdown revert back to free-kicks with penalties only given for offside. What I would suggest to Sanzar is to make all penalty infringements between the 22 m areas a free-kick and when you enter into the 22 m area of your opponents you then revert back to penalties. This would limit these cynical infringements close to the goal-line that frustrate players and coaches.

•Your views to refscorner@mweb.co.za.

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test and Super referee who lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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