By expressing reservations about the ELVs, the northern hemisphere are simply guarding against becoming Test rugby’s whipping boys. South Africa should follow their lead. So reports Ryan Vrede for keo.co.za.
Last weekend International Rugby Board officials made a presentation on the ELVs to northern hemisphere administrators. The aim was to sell the new brand of the game, in the hope they would follow the south and trial the laws later this year. The response was cool at best, with two Home Unions expressing strong concerns about the laws.
Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O’Neill expressed a deep sense of dissatisfaction at those unions’ initial reaction, which in itself displays his self-serving attitude towards the game’s development, while New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew has pleaded with the northern unions to reserve judgment on the ELVs until they’ve seen the results of the Super 14 trials and/or trialled the laws themselves.
Australian and New Zealand franchises have adapted to the ELVs with relative ease, while South African franchises have struggled to make the switch. The latter have traditionally relied on beefy forwards to steamroll the opposition in the set phases and build up through the phases on attack, slowly accumulating points through penalties. Now those behemoths are expected to haul their 100kg plus carcasses across the park to make tackles on backs who’ve taken a quick tap 50m away or to rumble up in support of a team-mate who has done the same.
For fear of being branded a conservative who is content to see the game stagnate as it has over the last decade, it is my personal view that the game needs to evolve. However, when that evolution compromises the traditional strengths of certain teams while favouring others – serious concerns have to be voiced.
From a backline perspective, South Africa and the Home Unions have never been able to compete with the intellectual capital in Australia and particularly New Zealand. That has been patent over the first three rounds of the Super 14, as the leading Australasian teams have already devised plans to best utilise the 10m between their launch point and the defensive line at scrum time, while South African franchises continue to predictably bash it up with the No 8, effectively losing 5m of space. For the Crusaders, Blues and Hurricanes quick taps have been viewed as a phase rather than unstructured play and their attacking alignment is similar to what it looks like if it was a set phase. In contrast, South African franchises gamble in the hope that they’ll find space to exploit.
But why should South Africa and those Home Unions be branded as anti-evolutionists for possessing strengths that are different? Why, because their preferred avenue of attack is patient phase play and set phase dominance, have they become the ill-disciplined and unwanted step-child of world rugby? Asking South Africa and those Home Unions to embrace the laws is like asking a boxing brawler like Ricky Hatton to change the technical style of Floyd Mayweather.
Part of the intrigue of the WBC welterweight fight between those two men was found in their differences. Mayweather subtly murdered Hatton with stinging jabs and lighting quick combinations, while Hatton struck back in his archetypical rough-house manner. If Hatton attempted to replicate Mayweather’s style, the fight would have been over within three rounds.
Four of South Africa’s five franchises are on the canvas at the moment because they’ve been forced to box Mayweather-style. The popular argument is that they’ll adapt in time. But in a professional era where success or failure can determine the financial future of players and coaches, and the viability of franchises/national unions and their brands – time is a precious commodity not to be wasted on adaptation to a style of play they’ll never master.
The attraction for a Springbok versus All Blacks Test was that you would see a clash of two contrasting styles. Mayweather (the All Blacks) would jab powerfully and counter with frighting speed and efficiency. Hatton (the Springboks) would build up patiently, waiting for the champ to make an error. It was Test rugby in its purest form and damn good to watch for the purists.
Uniformity of style is not evolution. Back to the drawing board for you IRB.Tweet