For two and a half months the global game has been played under the Experimental Law Variations. The Southern hemisphere was first to experience the ELVs and still include the laws governing sanctions, but what happens when those same players switch to the Northern-style ELVs for the November tests?
Is there a problem on the horizon, or are these issues merely a storm in a tea cup? Questions Total Rugby Radio put to IRB referee manager Paddy O’Brien.
Total Rugby: Looking at some the founding principles behind the ELVs, has the game been ‘given back to the players’?
Paddy O’Brien: “The players would certainly say that it has. On the statistics we’ve had back so far, on 80 to 90 percent of the ELVs the players say they strongly support them, so despite all the myths out there that people don’t like them, the people who play the game, who are at the end of the day the most important people, they’re telling us yes they love them.”
TR: What about making the game more entertaining – there’s a lot of kicking in the North at the moment..
P O’B: “I think there’s a bit of a myth out there that one of our objectives was to make the game more entertaining, which was not the case. That’s up to the players. As for the kicking, the stats show that kicking is no more than it was at Rugby World Cup 2007, in fact it’s down. There’s an average of 51 or 52 kicks in a game and if you go back to the semi finals and final of the World Cup there were 87 kicks per game, so there is a lot of misinformation out there.
“Sure, there is a lot of kicking and that is down to other reasons. Until the referees really get harsh at refereeing people on their feet at the tackle players will not commit to the breakdown and the only way to break defences is by kicking the ball. The fact that there’s a lot of kicking in games at the moment shouldn’t be put down to the ELVs.”
TR: We’ve currently got different Laws being used in the South and the North. Could this not be a problem with IRB World Ranking points and Rugby World Cup seedings potentially at stake?
P O’B: “People get a bit emotional over it but the only difference between the two hemispheres at the moment – and a reminder the NPC and Currie Cup are being played under the 16 ELVs whereas up north it’s 13 – is that instead of being a penalty it’s a free kick as a sanction. That’s the only area.
“When a New Zealand, Australia or South Africa player looks up at the breakdown he’ll see the (referee’s) arm straight up in the air rather than a free-kick. The difference in the actual playing will be that rather than tapping and going, or saying ‘no we’ll take the scrum’, it’ll be a penalty and that can be kicked out for a line out. I don’t think there’s going to be much in it.”
TR: With so much emphasis on the ELVs, have referees taken their eye off the ball again regarding the straight feed into the scrum?
P O’B: “They haven’t taken their eye off the ball, but some haven’t perhaps been as vigilant as we’d like them to be. We’ve got real concerns and we will address them again at Lensbury (referee’s conference in November).
“We’ve put out three directives to the referees and some of them are ignoring them. We’ll be making it quite clear that we expect them to up the ante in this area but it is a real area of concern because the scrum nowadays is a contest for quality possession rather than winning possession, so to have a scrum straight before the ball goes in is a problem on its own. It’s a bigger issue than just getting the feed in straight but, having said that, we can be a lot better.”
TR: Last week you were at a cross-sport refereeing conference in London – a useful exercice?
P O’B: “It’s a practice which is held in lots of countries over the world, certainly we did it in my neck of the woods when I was reffing.
“Why re-invent the wheel when it comes to self-review or dealing with criticism. Why shouldn’t we listen to a cricketing umpire or a soccer referee and learn a lot from them, and vice versa. It’s a great concept.”Tweet