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?