28 Feb

Round 3 – Red and Blue Rule
by WAJ
28 Feb 2008

Can anyone challenge the Blues and Crusaders. On the evidence of the first 2 rounds no one is even close. The Blues and the Crusaders get it – strong at set piece, a move or 2 up their sleeves from the set piece, adaptable loosies who focus on support and defence, a killer 1st five and backs running at pace with some great angles. There are some pretty average sides around this year I reckon – they struggle to score a match winning total – the likes of the Reds, Brumbies, Highlanders, Lions and Cheetahs will battle. Some hope for the Hurricanes, Chiefs, Waratahs, Force and Bulls but they need to start showing something soon.

To emphasise how dominant the Blues and Reds are here is a NZ form XV – Macca, Rokocoko, Sivivatu, Toeava, Carter, Evans, Ellis, Tuiali’I, Kaino, McCaw, Williams, Flavell, Woody, Big Kev, Somerville. Actually it would be close to a Sooper form team overall.

And what is with locks and Christchurch. The home grown lot of Clarke, Ross and O’Neill are everywhere but Chch, instead the Crusaders have locks from Auckland, Wellington and Brisbane?

So to the games

Hurricanes v Chiefs: God help us if these two turn out the tripe they have over the last couple of weeks. The Chiefs have looked the better of the two sides to date, and until overtaken by substitutions and injury last week had been the better side. A few changes in the backline may not be a bad thing as the Duck has so far failed to set his outsides alight, the more familiar Sweeney outside him may help. The Hurricanes are all over the place. Their halves are struggling and it seems the loosies are trying too hard to make up for this problem – the ELV’s seem to have them flummoxed. Nonu, for all his faults, was the difference last week and needs to be watched. The 2 sides are 3 each for Hurricanes home games. With that in mind and with the marginally better form I like the Chiefs.

Chiefs 1 – 12

Lions v Force: The Lions are crap, the Force know how to win in SA and in Giteau have the dominant player who has the talent to get the likes of Mitchell and Shepherd running at angles with pace to cause the Lions too many problems. Despite Mitch making a raft of changes yet again the Force will be too strong against a Lions side I struggle to find anything good to say about.

Force 13+

Stormers v Crusaders: The Stormers are a bit of a bogey team for the Crusaders in SA where they have a 3 win 2 loss record against the great Crusaders. Hard to see that record continuing with the Crusaders playing some excellent rugby at present. The inclusion of Ralph Malph will have given them some hope. But this is the best time to be touring SA with all players fresh and wear and tear at a minimum so the Crusaders will be firing and have far too many options for yet another limited SA team. Of interest will be whether the Stormers are better off without the terminal flopper that is Burger.

Crusaders 13+

Highlanders v Waratahs: Interesting statistic here – the Waratahs have won 5 of the 6 games played at Carisbrook including the last 3. This does not augur well for the young and inexperienced Highlanders team.Not that the Waratahs are overly convincing either. Their pack is workmanlike, with a some good loosies which helps in the ELV age.Questions over the backs who have yet to gel, but have shown some real promise at times with Beale showing glimpses at 1 5/8, if only he could defend. The 1st home game for this raw Highlanders team, they have a lot of local players who will be desparate to win at home and show that the close losses of the last 2 weeks were due to bad luck. A new 1 5/8 ain’t goin to help. They won’t do it however

Waratahs 13+

Brumbies v Reds: Bloody hell another game that fails to catch the imagination. This a very average round. Anyway 2 pretty even sets of forwards cancel each other out. On the basis that the Brumbies have yet another rookie in the centres, and are up against the skill and experience of the likes of Latham and Turunui, who will be too much for the Brumbie youngsters in all 3 midfield positions that struggled to keep the Highlanders at bay, let alone the Reds veterans. Latham to be the difference and the Reds to win for the first time in Canberra and only the second time ever against the Brumbies.

Reds 1- 12

Cheetahs v Blues: For Cheetahs read Lions of last week. The Blues are in irrestible form at this early stage of the competition. It is hard to see how the Cheetahs can beat them. They just do not have the weapons to challenge the Blues.

Blues 13+

Bulls v Sharks: the Grand Final rematch. The games between these two are always pretty close, 7 of the 11 games these teams have played have 1 – 12, and the style of play the SA teams have adopted will ensure that is the case again – friggin trench warfare guaranteed, with plenty of niggle. The Bulls will wonder what struck them after they were belted by the Crusaders after dominating the 1st 30 minutes, but that might have done them a few favours in realising where they need to be to compete under the ELV’s and shake off any complacency from last years win. They have made a few changes and Botha and Ndungani add some much needed class to the ranks, though Steyn in for Hougaard is interesting. Still they breed only 2 kinds of players up in the veldt, bloody big forwards and deadly accurate goalkickers. The Sharks are masters of the close win, but they don’t look as sharp as last year – the loss of players and the aging of others has blunted them a bit – how slow is Ackerman these days, in this age of ELV’s and greater mobility requirements his time is surely coming to an end. A close game with goalkicking the difference.

Bulls 1 – 12

19 Feb

Boo Hoo, Brian!
by Tracey Nelson
19 Feb 2008

Only one round gone in the 2008 Super 14 under the ELVs, and already the wails are co­ming out of South Africa.

Brian Habana, Springbok and Bulls winger, interviewed after his team’s win against the Stormers suggested that the essence of rugby has been lost, stating "there’s something special about rugby – your forwards pride themselves on the scrum and lineout, and your backs pride themselves on that contest against the opposition". He further complained about backs running against forwards and fowards running against backs, thus making things "a little bit of a mix-up" at the moment.

Fourie du Preez also added his piece, complaining that the game was less enjoyable and more like sevens than the rugby he knew. He felt there was too much kicking and counter-attacking, and not enough set pieces. Other voices out of South Africa have aired concerns that the ELVs deprive teams of set pieces to attack from, and by only awarding a free kick for slowing the ball down at the tackle/ruck it is favouring the defending team because the attacking team cannot kick directly for goal, and if they kick for touch the defending team gets the throw to the lineout.

There were still plenty of scrums and lineouts in the matches across the weekend, so I’m not too sure why anyone thinks the forwards are missing out on their set-piece action. Or perhaps it’s escaped the notice of the South African sides that you can opt for a scrum feed when awarded a free kick. The more I thought about that, the more confused I felt – surely one of the great scrummaging nations would be revelling in the option for potentially more scrums in a game? In particular, wouldn’t a team missing arguably the world’s greatest lineout jumper in one Victor Matfield, be grabbing the chance to secure ball from a scrum rather than risk losing the ball at the more contestable area of a lineout? Is it not easier to execute a set-piece move from scrum where all the opposition loose forwards are bound and out of the way, than from a lineout where they are poised to pounce on the No 10?

How can it be that the SA sides haven’t quite grasped that with the defending backline having to stand 5m back from the scrum, their own backlines actually have more space in which to launch an attack. There is no reason why the game under the ELVs has to be played like Sevens, with every free kick taken as a quick tap – heaven forbid that everyone tries to play the headless-chicken drivel the Hurricanes served up to their fans on Saturday night, where the ball was tossed around with so much abandon and with no semblence of structure it even made a mockery of a comparison to Sevens.

To come back to Habana’s complaints that forwards no longer get their chance to show their set-piece dominance nor the backs their running prowess, perhaps this is a classic example of how not to adapt to change. For as I see it, the scrum has taken on even more importance under the ELVs and with the associated new offside line there should actually be more scope for backs to show their attacking skills. Likewise, in response to du Preez’s concerns about too much kicking and counter-attacking, I would query why a team is choosing to play a fast, tap-ball game when their strengths lie in the set pieces. Nobody has had set piece play taken away from them under the ELVs, it is the choice of the team as to whether you take a free kick as a quick tap or a scrum.

So if you don’t like running backs against forwards, slow the game down and get rid of the forwards by opting for a scrum. If you don’t like counter-attacking from a kick, opt for the pick and go. If you think there’s too much kicking going on, for goodness sake stop kicking. Work to your strengths, as opposed to how you perceive you should be playing under the ELVs. If the South African teams attempt to continue playing in this current "ELV Rugby" mindset they’ve sucked themselves into, and try it against the Blues and Crusaders this weekend then the outcome will be inevitable. As, no doubt, will be the complaining.

­

16 Feb

ELVs in a nutshell
by Tracey Nelson
16 Feb 2008

The quintessential guide to the Experimental Law Variations for the 2008 Super 14 competition.

PENALTIES

The only offences that will now incur a penalty are:

  • Offside
  • Not entering through the gate
  • Foul Play (as stated in Law 10)


Referee signal


The referee will etend his arm at a 45 degree angle and call “Penalty
Advantage”. The signal for the actual awarding of a penalty has not
changed.

­
FREE KICKS

All other offences will incur a Free Kick. When awarded a Free Kick
from an offence teams may opt to kick directly to touch (possession is
then conceded to the opposition), take a quick tap or have a scrum
feed. Where a quick tap is taken the following must occur:

  • The offending team must immediately place the ball on the ground.
    Non-compliance will result in a Free Kick 10m up field.
  • The offending players must retire 10m back (Free Kick for not retiring)
  • The quick tap must be taken correctly and on the mark or a line
    through the mark
  • Players taking a quick tap must acknowledge that retiring players
    will create traffic and must not intentionally run into them

Referee signal
The referee will extend his arm out straight to signal advantage for a
Free Kick. The signal for the actual awarding of a Free Kick has not
changed.


ELVs at the TACKLE

  1. Tackler must release opponent, immediately roll away. (Free Kick)

    • Definition of rolling away is “towards the sideline and if
      possible not interfering with the attacking team’s clear out”.
    • A player caught on the ground must show obvious intent to be
      clear, so that they are lying flat. Staying rolled or in the foetal
      position will not be tolerated.
  2. Ball carrier must play or release the ball, and roll away. (Free Kick)
  3. Once a tackle is made the offside line runs across the field.
    Retiring players can only be put back onside when the player in
    possession has run 5m or kicks the ball, or the retiring players have
    returned behind the offside line. (Penalty for offside)
  4. Once a tackle has been made, both attacking and defending players
    contesting for the ball must enter through the gate. (Penalty for
    incorrect entry/offside entry)
  5. The halfback cannot be touched until the ball is clearly out of
    the breakdown. (Free Kick)


ELVs at the SCRUM

  1. Both attacking and defending backlines must be 5m back from the
    scrum until the ball emerges from the scrum. (Penalty for offside).
  2. Both halfbacks must remain within 1m of the scrum until the scrum
    is over. (Penalty for offside)

  3. Backrow players must bind correctly to scrum. (Penalty for offside)
  4. Incorrect binding by front rowers and locks now only incur a Free Kick.
  5. Early engagement will not be tolerated. (Free Kick)
  6. Lifting or forcing an opponent up in the scrum will not be
    tolerated. (Penalty for foul play)
  7. Twisting, dipping or collapsing a scrum will not be tolerated.
    (Penalty for foul play)
  8. Both front rows must go beyond 90 degrees for a scrum to be ruled
    as wheeled.


ELVs at the LINEOUT

  1. At a quick throw in the ball can be thrown straight or backwards
    towards the defenders goal line, but not in a forward direction
    towards the opposition’s goal line.
  2. When the ball is passed or taken back into the 22 and is then
    kicked directly into touch, the lineout will now take place where the
    ball was kicked from.
  3. Both hookers must be clearly identifiable and 2m from the lineout.
    (Penalty Kick)
  4. Pulling down jumpers before their feet are on the ground, taking
    out lifters etc remain as foul play offences. (Penalty for foul play).


ELVs for CORNER POSTS

  1. The corner posts are now positioned at the outside junction of the
    goal line and touch line. If a player in possession of the ball
    touches the corner post but is NOT in contact with the touchline or
    the ground outside the touchline, he WILL NOT be ruled in touch.
  2. If the ball is not in contact with a player and touches the corner­
    post, it will be deemed to be touch in goal.
15 Feb

Pre-season Predictions
by WAJ
15 Feb 2008

Well here we go again for another season. With the movement of players
to the NH $$$ (and a few retirements), no reconditioning period, the
continuing political issues in SA rugby and the introduction of the
ELV’s there is plenty of interest this year in a S14 comp which I expect
to revert to type when it comes to the top teams – a NZ team will win
and we will have 2 or 3 in the top 4.

­
So here’s my finishing order

­1) Hurricanes
A T5 that is maturing and will more than hold it’s own,
a 5 star loose trio, a halfback with plenty to prove and plenty of pace
and guile out wide. The only question is over Gopperth, but he combined
well with Ellison in the NPC and if he can finally come up with some
consistency then they are my pick. And they have Nonu as the wild
wildcard. A good draw with local games early and only the Bulls of any
significance in SA

2) Crusaders
A team with a few points to prove this year and questions
to be answered. How will they get on without Jack and Mauger? How will
McCaw and Carter bounce back from the WC disappointment? Will the Deans
coaching clash be an issue? Will Ralph Malph still be selected and is
Prickle past it? But you can’t go past their class. No Jack but Williams
is a more than capable replacement, looking forward to him in the new
environment. Draw irrelevant as they play well everywhere.

3) Waratahs
My big improvers in ’08. Top pack at this level. Beale to
orchestrate things in the backs with the benefit of a season of club and
APC played under the ELV’s and potentially the best back 3 in the comp.
Midfield a worry again but if they can perform at a steady consistent
level the Waratahs will be tough.

4) Bulls
have lost the talismanic Matfield but still have a lot of
strength in the pack, du Preez to run the show, Hougaard to kick goals
and Habana gives you the X-factor. A goodish draw with the opportunity
to gain momentum with early games in SA.

5) Blues
will be hoping to continue the momentum from Aucklands stellar
ANZC of ’07. Have lost depth and class though from last year and whilst
still plenty of very good players will not quite match last years
effort. Short locks and Braids absence early are a problem. If Evans can
get the backline going, and himself firing, they could surprise and get
a top 4 place, can’t see them winning though.

6) Chiefs
Will this be the year they lose their flakiness. They have
plenty of talent across the park, a good mix of youth and experience and
are well lead by Gibbes (him staying fit would be a bonus).

7) Sharks
Have lost the core of their team from last year in Smit,
James and Percy. Still a good team with plenty of stars, some in the
forwards are aging though. Pienaar/Michalak the key. Pienaar is a very
good player, but Michalak will be tested in the hurly burly of this comp
and lacks the directness of Butchie boy which may not be what they want
in terms of having to change their backline style. Not the best draw
either

8) Reds
Will improve on last year for sure, not that that will be
difficult. Are injury free for a change and the addition of Cordingly,
Turinui and Latham behind a hulking forward pack will see them cause
plenty of problems to a lot of teams, especially at home. Barnes has
come on in leaps and bounds. They have a massive T5 and plenty of
experience in the loosies. My outsiders this year.

9) Force
Boy do these guys have a knack for getting in the shit. How
you can reconcile one player breaking another’s jaw in a bar fight and
yet not only retain him in the playing squad but also start him is
beyond me. Good old Mitch at work I reckon. On the playing side they
will be tradesman-like, but rely on a small group of stars to win games
and if you watch those guys (Giteau, Shepherd, Mitchell) then they
struggle. Tough draw early with the SA first up then the Crusaders and
Blues and may be playing catch up most of the season.

10) Brumbies
Have lost too much skill and experience to figure this
year. Along with Mortlock and Chisholm being injured early will battle
all season. And playing a rookies first uop against the Crusaders is
risky. Will win a few at home but they have a pretty tough draw and end
in SA. Couldn’t have them

11) Lions
Caused a few upsets last year, never gave up. But they lack
class and not the best of draws either. Will struggle.

12) Highlanders
Big, young but too dumb. They have no experience and
will struggle without real class. The youngsters will learn a lot though
and there are potential AB’s a plenty.

13) Stormers
Will be the usual struggling Stormers we are used too.
Will win a couple of games when least expected, but will also lose
almost all the games they are expected to win. Crap draw with the Bulls,
Sharls and the Crusaders the 1st 3 games. Lack real bite in the T5 and
outside backs.

14) Cheetahs
Someone has to come last. Average draw and travel early
which will count against them. Have lost players from last year and look
particularly fragile in the backs – and well you could never call a SA
pack fragile could you!

Regards Waj­

14 Feb

Time to Brush Up – OFFSIDE LAWS under the ELVs
by Tracey Nelson
14 Feb 2008

It seems a prudent time to have a little brush up on the offside laws under the ELVs, as there has been quite a bit of comment and confusion in recent weeks. Offside is still a penalty offence under the ELVs, but there are a few new quirks to it.

AT THE TACKLE

Under the ELVs there is now an offside line at the tackle. This is a horizontal line that extends across the width of the field cutting rough the centre of the tackle. Once a line break has been made, all defending players are potentially offside should the last man on defence make the tackle. For retreating defenders to be on-side, they must retire behind that tackle offside line before attempting to make a tackle themselves. A pass does not automatically put retreating defenders back on-side as it did under the old laws. Now the player in possession must run 5 metre or kick the ball before those retiring defenders can be put back on-side and make the tackle.

This was illustrated beautifully in the Chiefs v Stormers game last weekend, when Chiefs’ winger Lelia Masaga tackled Schalk Burger just before the goal line. The Stormers had breached the Chiefs’ defence down the left wing leaving the cover defence chasing them. Because a tackle was made and the ball carrier was brought to the ground, an offside line immediately formed. This meant that for Masaga to complete a legitimate tackle on Burger he would have had to first get behind the offside line and then turn to face Burger. Instead he pulled off a magnificent cover tackle from behind Burger which brought the flanker down before he could score the try – but unfortunately under the ELVs Masaga was tackling from an offside position. Referee Matt Goddard correctly awarded a penalty try, because due to the proximity of Burger to the goal line there was no way Masaga would have been able to retire on-side and make the tackle before Burger would have scored.

However, keep in mind that for a tackle to occur the ball carrier must be held and brought to the ground. If he is not brought to the ground it is not a tackle, therefore there is no offside line. So if that player is still on their feet and pops the pass to a team mate – it is still general play and in that case a retiring defender is legally allowed to make the tackle. So had the ball carrier offloaded before the tackle was made and the pass had gone to Burger, Masaga would not have been offside in his cover tackle. Equally had Burger run 5m or kicked the ball after the tackled player popped the pass up, Masaga would have been deemed to be on-side again.

AT THE RUCK AND MAUL

No changes here. The offside line remains the hindmost foot of the hindmost player. The not-so-new concept that is being more closely adhered to is The Gate. This requires players joining the ruck to enter through a zone directly behind the hindmost player and no wider than the width of the players already bound in the ruck. Entering a ruck incorrectly, or ‘not through the gate’ is a penalty offence. Likewise, joining a maul from the side and not directly from behind is also deemed as joining from an offside position, and is penalisable.


AT THE SCRUM

The new offside line from a scrum is now 5 metres back for both the attacking and defending backlines. Halfbacks also have a new offside law to abide to, which is they must remain within 1 metre of the scrum until the scrum is over (which is when the ball is out). This means that halfbacks cannot peel away and start running before the No 8 has his hands on the ballas they will be deemed as being offside. Flankers must remain bound (with the full arm) to the scrum until the ball is out or they will be ruled as being offside, which is no change from the pre-ELV laws.


AT THE LINEOUT

Both the receiver and defending hooker must be 2m from the lineout. No changes to the offside linefor players not involved in the lineout, they must still be 10m back from the Line of Touch (the imaginary line that runs down the centre of the lineout). They cannot move up from this offside line until the lineout is over – which is when the ball moves forward over that Line of Touch and a ruck or maul forms (so the offside line moves up to behind the hindmost foot), or the ball is thrown long beyond the 15m line, or the halfback passes it back.

See, it’s not really that hard to understand is it. So go forth and watch the games closely this weekend and see if you understand the offside line a little better now.

13 Feb

Round 1 Ruminations
by WAJ
13 Feb 2008

So here we go again, the 13th edition of Sooper rugby. Plenty of new
players across all the teams, perhaps more than usual after the post WC
exodus to the NH across all 3 countries.

 

Some excellent match ups in the
first round – local derbies & trans-Tasman clashes. The ELV’s will be
the biggest talking point, how will teams adapt, and more to the point
how will the ref’s interpret them, but most interesting of all will be
the game to game consistency.

So who will win in round 1?

Crusaders v Brumbies

I expect this to be one sided, ELV’s allowing. The
Brumbies have to reinvent their game without the 2 principle players in
their previous style – Gregan and Larkham – and also without Mortlock. A
rookie 1 5/8, no Chisholm and Paul up front as well as Rathbone and
Mortlock out wide. You can’t lose all that strength and be competitive
against the Crusaders. The Crusaders are amazing – Williams for Jack,
Thorne for Fillipo(injured??), Somerville for Johnstone, Franks for
Crockett and Read for Prickle – so more than half the forward pack
changed from last years and they look stronger than ever – bastards. The
backs look marginally weaker without Mauger and the question is Bretts
defence, I suspect that Carter may defend at 2 5/8 but then it is hard
to hide a player these days. On home ground in Deans last season and
with lots of AB’s keen to put last year behind it could get ugly. Crusaders 13+


Reds v Highlanders

We should feel the first collision between these 2
monster packs all over the South Pacific. Two teams with plenty to prove
in that no one is expecting big things from them this year. Have a
feeling the Reds will be too classy with the likes of Cordingly, Turinui
and Latham guiding them around behind what should be dominant pack. The
Highlanders are just too green. Reds 13+


Sharks v Force


The Force have a very good record in SA having won 4 of
5, the one loss being too the Sharks of course. The Sharks will still be
hurting from last years last gasp loss in the S14 final. Plenty of Boks
will be keen to show why they are the World Champs and the Sharks depth
will see them over the loss of Smit/James/Percival in this game. On
Inside Rugby last night someone commented on how Michalak would suit the
Sharks style – What the???? They have been at their best with the
confrontational Butchie Boy and now go to the other extreme with young
Freddie – I have my doubts. Will the Force find strength in the face of
adversity (I’ve always wanted to include that) and overcome this weeks
off field issues – not for me, that and the fact they have lost players
they will miss more than the Sharks will see them lose. Sharks 13+


Blues v Chiefs


Can’t wait for this little ripper. The Chiefs have no fear of Eden Park against a Blues team down on strength in the
forwards, though having Big Kev and Woody there full time is
significant. But we will miss Braid, Collins is a worry to me, good
player but not as O/S these days. Still the packs match up reasonably
well. The Blues slightly better in the front row, even at lock and the
Chiefs shading the loose forward area. Whats the bet the Chiefs (Lauaki)
will take taps and the Blues scrums on free kicks. The backlines are
interesting – no Leonard(strange even if he is coming off an injury),
the Duck (NZ’s most improved player of 2007) inside an Otago reject and a
centre who hasn’t played for 2 years – I hope these guys can feed the
rockets out wide, if they can it will be great to watch and hard to
stop. The Blues too have made an interesting choice at halfback and 2
5/8, also have good pace out wide, but in Evans and To’oeava have the 2
game breakers. It will be tight but the Chiefs will again start a season
disappointingly. Blues 1 – 12


Waratahs v Hurricanes


The 2nd part of an excellent double header. Both
these sides will rate themselves as contenders this year and so this
game is crucial to make a stand accordingly. Even T5′s, though can’t
work out why Tialata is on the bench, top class loosies on both sides
and some bloody good backs. The keys to me are Gopperth and Nonu for the
Hurricanes and the no names in the Waratahs centres. If the Hurricanes
duo shine they will win. If the Waratahs duo can make an impression and
get their outsides into the game then the Waratahs will be tough. My
hearet says Hurricanes, my head Waratahs at home. Hurricanes 1 – 12


Stormers v Bulls


The champs v the perennial under achievers. The Bulls
have won the last 3 games between these sides and fully expect that to
continue. They look too strong everywhere, even without Matfield and
Botha and I can’t see where the Stormers are going to win it. Du Preez
the game breaker. Bulls 13+


Cheetahs v Lions


It is a worry when you have a "who cares" game in the
1st round. I see the Lions have lost Pretorius and Fourie for a while,
the last thing they need. They never gave up last year and will need
that spirit big time to win away in a typical SA derby – one they have
never won. The Cheetahs at home and with a lot of the squad from last
years Currie Cup success will win easily. Cheetahs 13+

­
Regards Waj