The 2008 Super 14 competition starts tomorrow, and we are lucky to have Jonathan Phipps’ preview all the way from New Zealand. We’ll also be doing a team-by-team preview and an overview of the ELVs later today.
With the Super 14 competition upon us this weekend, the atmosphere from a hot & sunny New Zealand is one of excitement! Like a fat kid who had his candy stolen from him (a few months ago…), the Kiwi Super 14 franchises are out to prove a point.
Any conversation about international rugby always brings up some reference to Wayne Barnes, my English heritage, the match against France, and that forward pass. They still firmly believe that they are the best team in the world, and the statistics do point out an unrivalled record; but it is a shame they cannot perform when it matters.
The Super 14 is New Zealand’s chance to redeem what has been a poor year by their own admission. The only concerning thing from a kiwi perspective has been the mass exodus of international rugby players to the European competition. What will the standard of the Super 14 be like this year?
I turned up in NZ during last year’s Super 14 competition and at that stage, the kiwis were already disappointed at the standard and the excitement of the comp. It was “boring”, “not exciting enough”, and “not enough tries”. Kiwis in general felt that their rugby union was becoming mundane, and similar to the style the English play!
As far back as 2005 it was recognised that defences were generally on top and slowing the continuity of the game by delaying the release of the ball at the contest for possession. In reaction to this a Law Investigation Society was set up. These laws have been gradually fed into the game to increase the attractiveness of rugby union. These new law changes were trialled at Stellenbosch university in South Africa.
These so called Stellenbosch Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) will be implemented in the Super 14 this year, with the hope that it will make it more entertaining. They have already been used in some other competitions such as the now defunct Australian Rugby Championship and the Air New Zealand Cup B grade. The feedback has shown that the ball spent more time in play and fewer full penalties were given. Instead the short arm penalty, or free kick was more predominant, and the quick tap was employed more increasing the continuity of play.
This is a fantastic prospect for the fans of Super 14 rugby. It does mean that the fitness levels of even the biggest players will have to be perfect! The performance of teams such as the Blue Bulls, who are the 2007 Super 14 Champions, will be interesting. Typically they have a huge pack, and last season imposed this physical edge on the teams they played. This year this may work against them if their pre-season doesn’t go to plan.
For the five Super 14 franchises in New Zealand this is where they have to stand up and be counted. They have a lot to prove after the disastrous All Blacks world cup campaign. This season the reconditioning programme implemented upon the ABs is not in place and they are all free to play Super 14 and the domestic Air New Zealand Cup rugby. This can only mean that it is an exciting year for New Zealand’s domestic rugby calendar, let alone the prospect of the “Grand Slam” across in Europe at the end of the year!