ELVs Are Not Yet Magical
by Rob Wallace
27 Mar 2008
The ELVs were promoted as a giant step forward towards a better game, but the jury is out as to whether they achieve this. Some of the ELVs are great; the game is certainly faster (although not necessarily better) but the tackle/maul, which was one of, if not the, main focus of the new laws remains a blight on the game.
Let’s begin with the good ELVs. An unexpected favourite is the offside line at the tackle. Over the last few years unbound players have been allowed to walk through a tackle/maul, well in advance of the last man’s foot, usually to try to interfere with the opposition as they clear the ball, and were not considered offside. Meanwhile all the other players on the field must remain at the last man’s feet. This inconsistency has now been cleared up and the game is better for it. This ELV means that teams can still drive over the ball, but
individual players cannot interfere. This fits well with the spirit and intention of rugby as a team game with offside lines.
Moving the backlines 5m back from a scrum also works well. Defences have improved greatly over the past decade and have begun to dominate the game and the provision of extra space to the attacking team redresses this imbalance and makes for a better spectacle. There have been some great tries scored from set play this season as a result of this ELV.
Stopping players passing the ball back to within the 22 before kicking out works well also. It rewards teams with long, accurate kicking games and keeps the ball in play.
But the ELVs related to the contact area are a complete flop. The contact area (tackle ± ruck/maul) has been an eyesore and problem area for years. Successive law "interpretations" have done little to help, as referees are unwilling or unable to sort this area out. The biggest problem has been the fact there are often multiple infringements all happening simultaneously at any collision, and these are compounded by the arbitrary nature of many refereeing decisions and the lack of consistency between referees. Because multiple infringements can happen simultaneously at the contact area, the provision of free kicks for offences is good as it stops an often random and unfair penalty being converted to points. But that ELV misses the point as multiple infringements continue to happen, and the real task here should be to reduce the infringements. Allowing hands in the ruck hasn’t worked as players simply flop over and seal off and protect the ball, with a net result of an ugly pile up on the ground and slow ball for either team.
The referees are also not strictly enforcing the tackler rolling away, especially getting off the tackled player, which again slows the ball down. Ideally the tackled player should be given enough time to place the ball, once he is free from the tackler. Sadly this is often interpreted as a split second. The laws should make it easy for a tackled player who has support to retain the ball, and for the opposition to take the ball off an isolated player – currently they don’t.
Another bugbear is the ‘gate’. This concept is not mentioned in the current full laws and is entirely a refereeing interpretation, although it is described in the ELVs. It is now unnecessary with the offside line at the tackle. As long as players enter the contact area from an onside position, there should be no necessity to come through an imaginary and arbitrary ‘gate’ which is open to referee interpretation.
The ELVs at the contact area need further work or the referees need sharpen up. The ELVs as they stand do not offer referees easy decisions at the contact point. Flopping players need to be discouraged, the ball carrier needs adequate but not excessive time to set up the ball and more than anything there needs to be consistency in the rulings in this area.