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Rugby Post

If it’s not broken…

A little question I’d like to pose to the IRB, “What the f**k are you doing to this sport of ours?” Anybody watching the autumn internationals cannot have missed the utter confusion arising at the tackle area and in the scrum. By constantly tweaking and updating the laws the IRB are placing players, referees, coaches and fans in an awkward position with different interpretations commonplace and frustration mounting. Let’s not forget the patronising rationale behind these laws (which clouds the reality that Australia were the nation forcing changes into the sport) that spectators could not possibly understand the breakdown and its many rules so to cut down on penalties we’ll swing the contest totally in favour of the attacking side and in the process guarantee more tries. The result however has been countless reset scrums, more penalties than ever at the tackle area, and a sport that, as a spectacle, is a shadow of its former self.

So the initial ridiculous draft of ELVs have come and gone with a few of the less drastic ones managing to stick. However in 2010 we still encounter unwelcome changes which serve only to confuse all involved. The latest interpretation of the tackle area, Law 15.6(c), is not merely a change to the game, it’s a contradiction of how the tackle has for years been taught. For a defender to take down the opposition and rise to his feet to challenge for the ball before supporting attackers create the ruck, considering the pace the sport is played at, is a remarkable skill. It’s the very reason Brian O’ Driscoll is widely considered the best backline defender in the game. Against the Springboks two weeks ago however, BOD was penalised for this skill.

To say the alternative suggested by the IRB is idealistic is an understatement. How a tackler is going to have time to release the player, get to his feet, and enter a ruck from behind is beyond my explanation. Not only that, but there has been a notable increase in the amount of attackers who are deemed ‘not held’ and allowed to advance after a legitimate tackle. Defenders are left with three choices; a) make the tackle and consider that job done, b) tackle and try to release the player before challenging, running the risk that he’ll get up, or c) opt for the old skill and hope the referee recognises the folly of the new rule.

The greatest travesty comes at scrum time. Even under the old laws the scrum was a lottery at the best of times. I concede that it is a difficult aspect for referees to marshal; is one prop collapsing or is one not taking legitimate pressure? Is one team boring in or has the scrum legally gone 90 degrees? Etc. But the level of inconsistency and guesswork in this area is unacceptable. The brain wave to insert a minute’s silence between “pause” and “engage” has also backfired to the extent that the command may as well be “crouch, collapse, reset.”

Am I alone in thinking the sport was fine as it was? Think of the 1997 and 2001 Lions tours, the 2003 World Cup, countless Heineken Cup seasons, all gripping contests and fitting advertisements for the sport with the tried and tested rules. I worry for the future of Rugby Union, especially considering the farcical ELVs which involved the abolition of the beautiful rolling maul and the conversion of penalties to free kicks implemented in the southern hemisphere. The IRB don’t own the sport, it’s not theirs to destroy.