Time to put the ELVs to bed

ELVs ruck

There is only one thing tempering the fever pitch excitement at the prospect of the Autumn Internationals. Martin Johnson takes charge, Danny Cipriani is fit again, the Big Three are all coming to Twickenham – and there’s an array of other reasons to be cheerful.

Nevertheless, the potential impact of the ELVs seems to hang in the air, as unwelcome as Neil Back at Thomond Park.

During some of the games I’ve seen this season, the ELVs have gone largely unnoticed and the high standard of domestic rugby has been maintained; but for others, where the ELVs have reared their ugly head, the impact has only been negative.

We haven’t seen a more free-running game with tries galore, and although reports suggest that the ball is in play slightly longer, one commentator suggested that it’s not much use when it’s 50 feet in the air. The experiment appears to have proven that wholesale changes in rules will produce effects that had not previously been imagined in the Australian law laboratory, and that actually, we don’t need to change the rules anyway.

The most obvious side effect is the seemingly ceaseless end-to-end kicking that dominated the Super 14 and that has been brought to the Northern Hemisphere. Full backs are kicking in field which obbiously keeps the ball alive, but how many times has the retrieving side actually counter-attacked as the law proponents envisaged?

Instead, they have just booted it back to where it came from with the result that five-minute spells are ridden with an exchange of aerial table tennis until someone makes a mistake. You can only sympathise with the forwards as they run back and forth, largely unrewarded but determined nonetheless, just in case the ball is spilled.

The referees’ interpretation of laws in the tackle area have also led to some baffling decisions, and the inconsistency has been stifling games. The safest option is to kick long, play in the opposition territory just in case you turn the ball over or give away a penalty in kicking range.

Many rugby supporters would say that in the most enjoyable games, the referee hardly gets noticed. The IRB’s tinkering with rules has meant that the referee – and their own interpretation of the laws – is often becoming the centre of focus, and their impact on the result is arguably too great. Referees ought to blend into the occasion, allowing the teams to play without confused whistling and constant interruption.

My fear of the ELVs is actually two-fold: not only does this kicking calamity become a bore to watch, but it doesn’t really play into England’s hands as in-play kicking is rarely a strength – remember that 36-0 drubbing in the World Cup when Andy Farrell et al gifted the Springboks plenty of ball?

If we are kicking aimlessly against the likes of Adam Ashley-Cooper and Mils Muliaina this autumn, they might just not kick it back and run through us instead. The implications could be a heavy defeat that is tedious to see – not what anyone wants!

Surely the trial has proved enough already and it’s time for the ‘brains’ behind the ELVs to wind their necks in and pretend this outrageous episode never happened?

What are your thoughts on the ELVs? Has anyone had their leg broken by a collapsed maul yet?

17 thoughts on “Time to put the ELVs to bed

  1. Are you joking? I think we’ve found the one person that is in support of the ELVs! A warm welcome to you! You mention the World Cup. The key aspect that stifled some games is the pressure of knockout rugby, where the stakes are so high that teams are frightened to lose. That’s where teams played ‘percentage’ rugby, and perhaps that’s why an underperforming England team reached the final because they were more used to the pressure. And maybe that’s why we now have the ELVs, because it’s just not fair.

    The sanctions law is even worse!! All that does is encourage the scrum-half to tap and go every time, usually resulting in a structure-less game that resembles Rugby League and the dummy half always going himself. Either that or we get a scrum every few minutes, where the put in is so bent it might as well be RL.

    It also puts the onus on referees too much, and every breakdown is a lottery which means teams don’t want to take it into contact in case they lose the ball, which means they hoof it downfield. Great.

  2. Gagger – there are a lot of points to cover in both this article and the post on the green and gold site and my boss wouldn’t thank me for taking an hour out of my day to comment on them all.

    For me it comes back to one main gripe: I loved watching rugby before the ELV’s were introduced, i loved playing it, i’ve loved all the world cups.
    Some of the best rugby i have seen in my lifetime has been produced in the past few seasons without the ELV’s.

    International rugby will always be a tight, no mistakes affair – especially at the world cup. Changing the laws has not improved club rugby and will not improve international rugby but it does have the potential to worsen it.

    My opinion boils down to this: there was no need to change the laws in the first place and they have not improved the game.

  3. That last world cup was crap wasn’t it? The two games involving Fiji against Wales and South Africa were terrible. As was France vs New Zealand and England vs Australia. I hated every minute of it.

    Its also not about having the guts to try out the sanctions laws, its about realising that they are complete b***ocks in the first place. If the oppo are stopping you getting quick ball when your in their half why should you only get a free-kick?

    Please don’t get me wrong, i think there are some good ELVs. 5 metres at the scrum and the 22 rule, as well as the quick line-out are logical progressions. However, the line-out rules just don’t make sense and pulling down the maul is just plain dangerous – I should know, I’ve been in a few already and a couple of times I was bricking it.

    So in conclusion, bring some of the more obvious ELVs in permanently and ditch the rest. If you want to see a game of rugby with lots quick taps and no mauling, the 7’s circuit is very entertaining.

  4. Gagger, there are many facets of the game that have changed over the years, and especially since the advent of professionalism. You reference the RWC 07 – agreed that the kicking game became the major tactic but this is purely as big pressure games are now so often won and lost by mistakes and decided by tiny margins. All recent world cups have centred entirely around defence rather than attack, and 2007 was no different.

    The world’s ‘big 5’ international teams, when playing at their best, are on a par (well apart from Australia – they’ve been off the pace for a while) and hence the emphasis on defence and the odd mistake here and there LOSING games, rather than a flash of brilliance WINNING them by scoring a 40-yard try. In professional rugby at the highest level, there is little room for individual brilliance, creationism, and mass scoring of tries simply because of the pure fact that the players are so skilled, so well drilled, so evenly matched, and have so much at stake. This is the case under any version of the laws.

    Where we need to look is the bread and butter of rugby – club games. Whereas normally I’m an avid fan of the Tri Nations, I gave up this year after witnessing too many touch rugby/Aussie rules footy hybrids. The game under the full ELVs is a mess: the players play like headless chooks (to steal your language), the ref blows his whistle and raises a crooked arm at random intervals, and the crowd just ‘ooh-and-ahh’ continuously like at a fireworks display because they’re under the deluded impression they should be delighting in this new ‘free-flowing’ rugby, though secretly they don’t know what’s going on, apart from that the newly slimmed-down 13stone prop forward has scored in the corner after evading any 2-hand touch-‘tackles’.

    The English premiership 2007-2008 season was widely recognised as one of the most entertaining in history, with skill levels and attacking desire at incredibly high levels. Consistently. Contrast that with the start to this season, where refs have created complete irreguarity and uncertainty at the breakdown and we have seen, shock horror, MORE kicking. I agree with kemlo that some of the ELVs have been very positive and represent the logical progression of the game. BUT, that is because these rules have been the result of LOGICAL analysis of the game and how to improve it: how do we hand the advantage to the attacking team off scrums? Let’s introduce a 5-metre rule for the defensive line. TICK. If a ball is booted out of play, how can we get it back into play quicker and encourage the counter-attck? Allow the ball to be thrown in backwards. TICK.

    Now, what we don’t need is a completely unrepresentative panel of self-progressionist career-mongers sitting down going “how can we completely radicalise this game into a show-piece that will grab advertising rites and raise its awareness á-la-NFL? Tell you what bru, let’s change everything about the game that makes it so appealing, strategic and multi-dimensional and dumb it down so Joe Stralia will be able to understand, oh and so our excuses for international prop forwards will no longer look like flaming galahs”… PLEASE wake up to the fact that the beautiful game will always need tinkering with to ensure it is relevant, but in no way is it in need of significant change. The ELVs in their full form are a disgrace, as are the southern hemisphere bully-boys trying to muscle them through. Vive le beau jeux.

  5. Don’t hold back Justin! Love the reference to creationism too – damn those anti-Darwin religious fanatics!! In all seriousness it’s a good point about political elements wanting to appeal to a broader support base by dumbing down the game.

    We have been seeing attendances soar in the Northern Hemisphere in the last few seasons, it is only the Southern Hemisphere where it seems crowds are dwindling. I’ve been chatting to a colleague about how to best explain the appeal of the Heineken Cup. It’s down to the fact that EVERY weekend of the competition there are 4 or 5 of the most mouth watering encounters you can imagine.

    Sort the competitions out in the Southern Hemisphere, make them difficult to get into, let there be relegation, make them aspirational and market them effectively then watch as the crowds come back in droves!!

  6. I think that englishmen are keen to overhear anything coming from out of their borders and then wonder: Are there any defenders of the ELVs anywhere?

    Well, there are. And we happen to be in bigger number than its detractors. If you just turned your heads to what we think… I think there’s only one issue about the ELVs. And I think this is the mother of all battles. We all agree that 5 meters distance behind the scrum does no harm at all and even makes for a better game. We all also agree that punishing a pass into the 22 for a kick to touch can be accepted.

    But what RFU and all englishmen won’t ever like is to have free kicks instead of penalties. You live up to free kicks and can’t accept that the opposite makes for a better rugby. You call it “league”. Call it whatever you want, it does make for a better rugby.

  7. Guys, too many easy cliches. On my post over in the blog I pre-empted most of them but let me try and take them one at time below.

    DavidThe key aspect that stifled some games is the pressure of knockout rugby, where the stakes are so high that teams are frightened to lose. That’s where teams played ‘percentage’ rugby,

    Spot on. The problem is that current laws combined with professionalism are far too weighted towards ‘play for a penalty’ rugby. Under pressure a team playing kick chase will far too easily beat a team playing creative rugby.

    After the 2003 RWC, a bunch of guys whose names you might recognise (Clive Woodward, Warren Gatland, Ian McGeechan, Rod Mcqueen, Eddie O’Sullivan, Andy Robinson) spotted this, got together with the IRB and initiated the ELV project. Point: The guys at the top of the Northern Hemisphere game (strategists, not bureaucrats) see there is a problem, even if you don’t.

    The sanctions law is even worse!! All that does is encourage the scrum-half to tap and go every time, usually resulting in a structure-less game that resembles Rugby League and the dummy half always going himself. Either that or we get a scrum every few minutes, where the put in is so bent it might as well be RL.

    Teams quickly learned that a tap and go wasn’t always the smartest move. You’re right that this then meant the use of the more powerful attacking scrum under the ELVs. What’s wrong, you don’t like forward play or uncluttered backlines? The bent feeds are nothing to do with the ELVs. Either of these option are less disruptive to game play than a penalty attempt.

    It also puts the onus on referees too much, and every breakdown is a lottery which means teams don’t want to take it into contact in case they lose the ball, which means they hoof it downfield. Great.

    Partially correct; every breakdown is a potential lottery. So why put the pressure on the ref to only have full penalties to award, which in turn go on to decide the game? The free-kick law (with options of full penalties and yellows) means there is less pressure on refereeing calls deciding games.

    Spike You’re welcome to your opinion of course, but I’m having trouble seeing how you can make a judgment on all the ELVs when they haven’t all been trialled here, and the ones that have aren’t half a season old yet. You also seem to think they’re ALL bad? What about the 5m scrum rule? Something tells me it’s change you don’t like, not just the ELVs.

    KemloWell done, you found 4 games out of a whole world cup that you could label exciting and only 2 of those (with Fiji in them for chrissakes) had any attacking rugby of note in them. If the oppo are stopping you getting quick ball when your in their half why should you only get a free-kick?
    Because as the Northern Coaches above also figured out 5 years ago, to give a 3 point shot everytime means teams just hoof it into the other half and wait for a penalty, without ever having to play any constructive rugby. Sound familiar?

    Under the Sanction law, should a team continue to give frees though, refs are encouraged to give yellows. Unfortunately they haven’t been consistent enough on this yet, throughout games.

    As for the Rolling Maul, I personally err on not touching it, but the reality is that 80% of all rolling Mauls ended up on the ground pre-ELVs. This point has been widely over-emotionalised. Also, under the new ELVs the maul hasn’t and won’t die. You just have to be better at the pod system.

    JustinAs long as the laws of a game are skewed towards defensive play then yes, you’ll see dour contests in RWCs. Exactly why all agreed something had to change.

    I’m an avid fan of the Tri Nations, I gave up this year after witnessing too many touch rugby/Aussie rules footy hybrids.
    Those who actually watched the 3Ns would beg to differ on it. It’s been regarded as one of the best for years, coming down to the death by 4 points, yet yielding a lot of attacking play and those strange things called tries (is there a reason why they’re allotted most number of points?).

    I’ll skip most of the petty crap and delusion about the Guinness premiership.Contrast that with the start to this season, where refs have created complete irreguarity and uncertainty at the breakdown and we have seen, shock horror, MORE kicking.
    Where the fark has this assertion come from? Like the main article, you’ve seemed to have forgotten that this kicking epidemic started before the ELVs. Even before the 22 rule players would keep it in play looking to force turnovers and penalties.

    And the ‘irregularity’ at the breakdown? Which ELV is causing this? You’re not playing the sanction rule so it cant be that. All they’ve done is re-emphasise guys not going off their feet and coming through the gate. I think you maybe a bit confused and need a lie down or get back on your meds.

    What’s so obvious from all your comments is that you’re not even sure what you don’t like, but are so keen not to have any change that you’ll find problems that were already there and blame them on ELVs. If that fails try and invent conspiracies that aren’t there or scream blue murder over maul safety.

    The truth is that amateur or professional, rugby wasn’t meant to be boring. It was meant to be creative, attacking and vibrant in big games or small and we don’t have to accept otherwise.

  8. Gagger – whilst i appreciate your detailed responses to the posts it comes down to one fundamental difference of opinion: rugby was NOT boring before the ELV’s. Rugby was creative and attacking and vibrant and competitive and interesting and tactical.

    So I resent the accusation that i don’t like change. I love it when a team changes their approach to a game, a coach comes up with a new attacking/defensive system, teams qualifying for a competition change year in year out.

    What i don’t like is tampering with the fundamentals of a game that i love. That is why i reject the ELV’s out of hand regardless of the fact they might be being drip-fed into the game or the fact that standing 5m behind a scrum might not actually be all that bad.

    Scrap the whole thing.

  9. The biggie is this.. before ELVs too many kick for goal penalties. Fӣking boring..ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Only the english could possibly think a 4 penalty kicks to 3 victory is entertaining.

    Throwing all the ELVs in at once was a mistake, but short arm penalties at the breakdown isn’t.

  10. How much are the Australian Rugby Union paying you then Gagger?

    Please explain this example then: A team has a scrum about 40 yards from the oppo line. After 2 phases the team with the put-in has not made much ground but established a good attacking position. The defending team worried about the threat put hands in the ruck and concede the free-kick. With the defending team having quickly organised their defence (and no chance for a quick tap) the attacking team decide… to have another scrum – no advantage whatsoever. Currently, in the northern hemisphere they could, if they choose, have a pot at goal and get 3pts reward for the oppo spoiling the play. And don’t give me this crap about refs then awarding yellow cards and full arms if it carries on, that is just plain confusing.

    Additionally, your laughable attempts to claim northern hemipshere coaches are behind it are exposed in this article.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/rugby_union/article3858050.ece

    Finally, as an aside, your obvious contempt Fiji (one of the teams I referenced involved in exciting matches during the World Cup) shows that one of the more important issues in World rugby (more imporant than the ELVs at least) – the Tri-Nations teams supporting and bringing on the Pacific Island teams, is still a long way from being addressed.

  11. Spike “That is why i reject the ELV’s out of hand regardless of the fact they might be being drip-fed into the game or the fact that standing 5m behind a scrum might not actually be all that bad.”

    Thanks for proving my point. You just don’t want change. There were guys like you around when we upped the points for tries, legalised lifting and stopped 9s from binding to the scrum. There’s a great piss-take of your attitude here

    Kemlo And don’t give me this crap about refs then awarding yellow cards and full arms if it carries on, that is just plain confusing. You really find that confusing? Thankfully refs and the rest of the rugby community who work with TWO sets of cards (yellow and red) don’t.

    Additionally, your laughable attempts to claim northern hemipshere coaches are behind it are exposed in this article. The only laughable thing is your comprehension of the article you reference. My point is that a bunch of international coaches, including Nthn Hemispher ones, saw the need for the game to change in 2003, which then led to the ELVs.

    You’ve got one of them, Geech, saying he doesn’t like the line-out and maul rules. You’ve missed the point. As for your Fiji rant, wrong again. My point wasn’t contemptuous of Fiji, quite the opposite; that it was hardly surprising to see a running game from the masters of sevens. But I thought that sort of rugby was worthless in the 15 aside game according to the boring brigade?

  12. Gagger, have you read this report…? It’s a fairly comprehensive assessment, by an Aussie. And I’m afraid I’m with Spike – it’s not that we are anti-change, full stop; it’s that we are anti-change for change’s sake when it is completely unnecessary since the game is flourishing the Northern Hemisphere.

    Let’s try to keep any discussion objective rather than personal, without resorting to expletives…

  13. The Air New Zealand Cup final has just finished 7-6. Sounds like a rubbish game, can we change the rules again?

  14. As I said Gagger, if you could please just explain why the example I gave in my second post shows the ELVs to be better. Ta.

  15. I thought it was obvious. In your scenario we get the riveting sight of penalty shoot outs from 40 yards. In fact, teams don’t need to have any attacking threat in your scenario, they can just grind out breakdown after breakdown until the ref finds something and bingo, 3 points and all momentum is taken out of the game.

    The sanction law pushes your team to have an attacking threat and go for a try. Should the defending side repeatedly try and stop them illegally, then they can lose someone for 10 minutes. This is a complexity that refs already seem to be able to deal with.

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