International rugby is under serious threat of a north-south split after England, Ireland and Wales made a dramatic about-turn and refused to implement sanctions involving the experimental law variations (ELVs).
Australian Rugby Union chief executive and International Rugby Board delegate John O’Neill on Monday warned of the dangers of the game becoming an embarrassment, with two games and two different sets of laws.
“Contrary to their undertaking in May when they said they would find competitions to trial the sanctions, [the three nations] have now recanted and there will be no trialling of the sanctions in any competitions in those countries,” O’Neill said.
The southern hemisphere is committed to retaining the ELVs, meaning Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will be playing a significantly different game to their northern counterparts.
“This leaves us in the southern hemisphere in a quandary, but more particularly leaves the IRB in a very difficult position,” O’Neill said. “They’re looking to have a universal game with one set of laws at the earliest opportunity. But it’s impossible to have consistent and common dialogue about the new laws unless we have all trialled them.”
O’Neill said he was sick and tired of the northern countries arguing the ELVs were a southern hemisphere plot, and that the European teams were being ambushed into using the laws.
“To the contrary, the IRB has promoted these laws to improve the game and the spectacle, but there is now the serious risk of two games, with two different sets of laws. It could happen,” he said.
“People in the north are saying, ‘You just want the game to look more like rugby league’. Do you reckon the last two All Blacks-Springboks Tests look like rugby league? They have got to be kidding.”
O’Neill said it was crucial for the north to compare the Tests involving Australia against France and Ireland, which were played under the old laws, to the All Blacks-Springboks series that was run according to the ELVs.
“You don’t have to be Einstein to work out what’s the far more impressive game,” he said. “We are seeing a faster, more aerobic, and much better game, not a situation of one hemisphere getting an advantage over the other.
“We’re just saying to England, Wales, Ireland and the IRB, give it a fair go. To say ‘we are not going to trial them’ is not in the best interest of the game. And this is a tremendous test for the IRB leadership to stare down England, Wales and Ireland and force them to find competitions to trial the sanctions.”
O’Neill has been irritated by being constantly told by his home union counterparts that “our game is in great shape, and why should we help you because your game is in trouble”.
“Look, our game is not in trouble,” O’Neill said. “The fact is, anyone who was at the 2007 World Cup knows the semi-final and finals were very poor spectacles. They were not good games of rugby. And so far the first two Test matches played under the ELVs have been absolutely fantastic. That will ultimately catch up with the northern hemisphere. One day the fans will say, ‘This is boring. Penalty shoot-outs are not what we’ve come to see’. If we want rugby to continue to grow as a true international game, second only to football, we’ve got to move away from the battle lines being drawn between the southern and northern hemispheres.”
O’Neill was also surprised by comments from rugby league boss David Gallop, who said the promotion of Timana Tahu and Ryan Cross into the Wallabies squad indicated league was the No.1 code and rugby wasn’t properly looking after its juniors.
“This is an uncharacteristic comment from David,” he said. “I am very comfortable our talent programs are doing the trick. It’s a pity, David probably had a bad week getting into a fight with the Gladiator [Russell Crowe], then had some stoushes over TV deals, and he finishes off the week by giving us a backhander. I’m sure this week will be a lot better.”Tweet