The law’s an ass

2008-01-19 00:00

The rugby season has not even started and the South African Rugby Union (Saru) has started the year by confusing the referees even more by changing their stance on the new law application.

Late last year I wrote that Saru has applied to the IRB to start the new domestic season playing with the same set of laws that would apply in the Super 14. This would eliminate all the confusion that the new laws may have on the rugby public and players.

Now we find that the SA refereeing bosses have done an about-turn and informed the rugby public that all domestic competitions will be played under the full experimental law variations (ELV). This means that certain laws will be different to the ones that we will see every weekend in the Super 14. Saru this week blamed the IRB as they were apparently told to either apply the full set of new ELVs or not introduce the changes at all.

This surely cannot be the case. The impact of the new laws will be radical, but to apply the full set of ELVs will change the way that we approach the game, how we condition our players and who we select for the game. Under the full set of new laws scrumming will almost become obsolete as most technical infringements at set pieces will now be free kicks.

Let me explain.

The most influential change is that when a ruck or maul ends unsuccessfully there will now be a free kick and not a scrum. Although the option is still available to scrum for the receiving team, it will be like watching rugby league in Australia. Possession will become paramount and, if the pick and drive takes place at every breakdown, we will have to kiss the running game goodbye. Rugby league has tried this method before and was forced to change the law by limiting the possession to five tackles before you concede possession to your opponents. The idea of the law is to speed up the game and make it more entertaining, but I fear we are going to get bored stiff watching guys bash into each other time and time again.

I remember having a discussion with a Taiwanese man in Taipei who had never watched rugby before. He was a soccer lover and could not understand why a player kicking the ball out in rugby then had the chance to contest possession again at the resultant lineout. Why are you able to contest for the ball again at a scrum when you have knocked on? Surely you must be penalised for infringing the laws of the game and not be given a chance to contest for possession again. It makes sense that you be penalised for infringing, but this is also what makes rugby unique and different to other games around the world.

We will now see that if the ball is thrown in incorrectly at the lineout it will also result in a free kick. The only time you will see a scrum will be when the ball is knocked on.

The other major change is that you may now play the ball on the ground with your hands as long as you are on your feet. This is not really a major change, but will allow greater and longer contest for the ball at the breakdown.

Finally, you may now collapse a maul as long as you do it from an on-side position.

These laws will take some getting used to, but the game is set for change. Rugby has always been a sport for all shapes and sizes, but the ELVs will change all that. Big mobile forwards and small fast backs will now be the order of the day.

Saru’s argument for changing their stance on the new ELVs is that they would rather do it now than later in the year when it will become law anyway. But why change what is not broken? You can apply some laws in a controlled environment, like in the hostel rugby league at Stellenbosch and see what influence these changes will have on the game. To blindly apply all these changes only to then change them again when the IRB meet in June is short-sighted.

Sanzar officials, who run the Super 14, were brave to try some of the ELVs and gradually phase in the changes. We all want to see a free-running game of skill with players trying to outsmart one another. But I would also want to see players scrum, maul and drive, a game where pressure is applied at every breakdown. Those days might be well gone.

•Your views to

•MICHAEL KATZENELLENBOGEN is a former Test referee who lives in Pietermaritzburg.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.