27 Mar

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.

27 Mar

The Guiding Principles of NZ Rugby
by Paul Waite
27 Mar 2008

ER_MudRugbyThe NZRU are currently involved in what sounds a bit like a ‘think-tank’ process with the aim, they say, of establishing some guiding principles to enable them to plot the course for New Zealand rugby over the coming years.

The challenges they see are the same as we all see. The financial pressures which draw our players off-shore, the popularity and support for the sport from the public, the way the game is played, the health of the game at the grass-roots, and the viability of our national competitions.

The basic idea of the think-tank is a good one. Without the light cast by the kind of guiding principles that they talk about, the danger is that the game could end up losing its way, and perhaps trading traditions for short-term dollars.

There are a some principles that we here at Haka would like to see on the list. They aren’t exhaustive, and aren’t intended to solve all the problems in front of us, but here they are, in no particular order.

  • Rugby should continue to be a game for all body types.
  • A strong national, provincial NZ-only competition must be retained.
  • The All Black jersey should have its mana upheld (restored).
  • Tours which include mid-week games against provincial teams (hosting in NZ, and visiting abroad) should be re-established.
  • Rugby should be played on a Saturday afternoon as often as possible, at all levels.
  • All Black tests should be played here in NZ as often as they are now.
  • Fast-tracking of young players from school-level via ‘academies’ etc. should be stopped, and club rugby made the focus of rugby apprenticeship.
  • All Black tests should all be shown live on Free To Air TV.
  • School and club rugby should continue to be strongly supported.

The body types one refers to the ELVs and possible future pushes for law changes which aim at speeding the game up. Speeding it up any further will result in this principle being undermined, as teams seek out forwards who can maintain the aerobic effort levels required of them. This will result in the extinction of the traditional ‘fattie’ front-rower, which would be unacceptable, and a big blow to the game world-wide.

The retention and support of a national New Zealand-only provincial competition should always be the top level of the sport in this country. Super-rugby is not the same, and is designed to achieve different ends. It serves the media moguls who pay for it, and is internationalised, which tends to develop a sameness in rugby styles between the teams over time. Preserving a strong national competition provides a bridge from Club rugby to Super rugby, and most importantly allows the New Zealand style of rugby to be retained as well.

The All Black jersey has been much de-valued over the previous few years, and this next principle is linked with the one following it regarding tours. The reason the Black Jersey has suffered in this way is a direct result of there not being enough rugby being played mid-week on tours as there once was. To rectify this, those tours need to be re-instated, both away from home, and when hosting other national unions.

Night rugby is a blight on the game, and should be minimised as much as possible. Everyone knows that this comes about simply because of money to be made from advertisers, when NZ rugby is screened in the Northern Hemisphere. We feel that a way has to be found to stop this, since the best rugby is always played in daylight, and in the end that’s what the public want to see.

One-off money-making tests, such as the up-coming Bledisloe Cup to be played in Hong Kong this season are all very well and good. The NZRU rightly insisted that the test have “meaning” by being a Bledisloe Cup test, rather than just being some kind of money-spinning exhibition match, however this does not go far enough. The danger is that tests which would normally have been played here in New Zealand could be exported to more profitable venues around the globe, just because the bottom line makes it so much more ‘sensible’. All Black tests which would normally have been played here, and indeed the same number in total which normally would have been played here, should still be played in New Zealand. Since there is a limit to the number of tests which the All Blacks can physically play in a season, this guiding principle should be good enough.

The fast-tracking of talented young players from school level, often by-passing club rugby entirely results in a less rounded player than we have seen in years past. Club rugby puts precocious young lads alongside grizzled and experienced old hands. They get knocked on their arses, brought down to earth, and schooled in the black arts by hardened, if less talented, players who have been around the block. Time spent in this environment knocks the edges off, engenders resilience, teaches a great deal in a short time, and is invaluable. It also works the opposite way around, in that Clubs once again become the central source of talent, and derive pride from producing great Super Rugby players, or even All Blacks. Better, harder players are produced who still have the same talent but are less apt to get too carried away by it and forget where they came from, and why they are playing the game. As well as producing better players for our top level, this has the effect of re-invigorating the grass roots of the game – a win-win.

There isn’t a lot to say about the next one. The All Blacks are playing for the nation, and should be available live on our national free-to-air television channels. It’s a travesty that they are not, and this should be remedied.

Finally, rather a scatter-gun principle, that school and club rugby should continue to be supported. These are the well-spring of our player resources, and without them, there will be no All Black team occupying the No.1 spot in the World rankings. Support comes mainly from financial means, but looking back at the issue of how to handle young up-and-coming players it also depends on roles and general valuing of these areas of the game.

That’s it. We wish the delegates at the NZRFU think tank all the best in your deliberations!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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14 Mar

The Holy Grail – A Global Season
by Rob Wallace
14 Mar 2008

­­There seems to be some suggestion rugby is in trouble. Crowd numb­ers are down, as are TV viewing figures. The media suggest people are sick of rugby after the farce of RWC 07.

SARFU have already signed away their TV rights from 2010 onward, which suggests that SANZAR may be in trouble, given that South African media companies have generally paid proportionately more into SANZAR than Australia or NZ. Add in whispers of SA joining Northern Hemisphere (NH) competitions since they are in the same time zone, and John O’Neill’s recent proposal to expand the Super 14 into Asia and the Pacific and it would seem there could be a big changes in rugby as we know it over the next 3 years.

If there are to be changes, then they must occur within the concept of a global rugby season or NZ and Australia risk being marginalised, purely due to financial constraints. The end game for one such scenario is all top our players in Europe, much as soccer does now. A global season is the single most important and powerful way of protecting our interests. Given that the NH dominate the IRB, and given the financial clout of the NH clubs it is unlikely they will compromise very far from their current setup.

The easiest way to accomplish a global season would be to move the Tri-Nations to coincide with the Six-Nations competition, early in the year. This international window could be preceded by Southern Hemisphere (SH) teams touring the NH in January rather than the current November, and the NH teams touring down below in April, rather than the current June. This would give a 4 month international window from January to March. These windows could be extended or moved by 2 weeks at either end, but would still give an eight week window with no scheduled rugby somewhere in May/June/July.

There are some compromises with this setup. The test window will impinge on the NH club competition in a larger block than the current staggered system does, where the tours to the SH occur after the club season finishes. But it should still be possible to have 5 months of uninterrupted NH club rugby from August to December, and if necessary part of May could be freed up for Club finals after the Internationals have finished.

The downside for NZ is that the provincial championship would become an amateur second-tier competition, but as more provincial unions begin struggle financially this may not be a bad thing. The re-jigged calendar gives a 5 month window from July to November for a ‘Super’ competition. Given this may now the be only professional rugby competition in NZ it should be expanded to include ~8 NZ teams with amalgamation of the current provinces much as S14 does now. It would also be opportune to include Pacific Island, Argentinian, and Japanese teams in this new competition, as well as considering basing teams off-shore.

The NZ club season could run much as it has done over the past. The provincial competition (including all provinces but no fully professional players) could either run underneath the ‘Super’ competition as curtain-raisers or, since it is not using professional or contracted players, it could run during the protected 8 week rest period in May/June/July.

13 Mar

Almost Too Predictable – Round 5
by WAJ
13 Mar 2008

The Sooper 14 is close to splitting into 3 definite groups after round 5 or 6. Group 1 of the Crusaders, Sharks, Blues who will definitely make the top 4. Group 2 of the Waratahs, Hurricanes, Brumbies, Force, Bulls, Chiefs who will all scrap for the 4th spot. And Group 3 of the Cheetahs, Reds, Highlanders, Lions, Stormers scraping to avoid the wooden spoon. Group 1 will keep winning and it is the likes of this weeks match up of Brumbies v Hurricanes which are the key to a top 4 spot.

Good to see the players all get the spear tackle issue sorted – NOT! It is simple really, don’t lift in the tackle. But you can bet that there will be another couple this weekend.

And will we ever see some consistency from the referees? One blows every ruck up straight away and yaps all game, another lets a lot go at the ruck and doesn’t say a word. Aaaaaarrrgh!!!

So to the games

Chiefs v Stormers: Two underperforming teams here. The Chiefs have made quite a few changes – dropped lard-arse Lauaki, put a couple of players in the midfield who can actually play, their best 2 running wingers are their as well – finally a Chiefs team that makes sense and if the Duck can find a bit of form……. The Stormers finally got a win on the board last week, admittedly against some pretty awful opposition, but they showed some good signs in the loose and will need to be watched. But you would think at home the Chiefs will be to strong.

Chiefs 13+

Brumbies v Hurricanes: A toughie this one, mainly because it is hard to know which Hurricanes side will turn up. Nonu will be missed as he is a genuine gamebreaker, but his absence may actually help in that the Hurricanes will have to use the ball a bit better instead of just chucking at Nonu and hoping – time for the midfield to step up. The Brumbies at home are hard to beat(5 of 7 v Hurricanes at home), solid up front and adventurous out back of late, they will be hard to contain. Gerrard is playing very well at fullback and marshalls the young backs in front of him very well.

Brumbies 1 – 12

Blues v Force: The Blues were friggin awful for a half last week, scrubbed up a bit better in the 2nd half, but wouldn’t be happy with a scrappy and distracted performance. Too many handling errors, sloppy at halfback and 1 5/8 at times, just lacked any real conviction. The Force all but beat the Crusaders in a great game of rugby last week. However they are on a short turn around with only a 6 day break, which will offset the Blues long trip back from South Africa, have lost their best prop, and have lost both previous games to the Blues by plenty. The Blues will want to put their shop back in order quickly and will do so here.

Blues 13+

Crusaders v Cheetahs: The only thing between a hiding and a convincing win is that the Crusaders have only had a 6 day turn around. The changes will help here, though some very good players have been left out as well, especially up front. IS rotating 5 players in a pack too many, especially with 2 rookies coming in? The Cheetahs will start off with a hiss and a roar and maybe in front after 20 – 30 minutes but the Crusaders backs and the Cheetahs fitness will ensure a comfortable Crusaders win.

Crusaders 13+

Reds v Bulls: How could you ever back the Reds? Woeful the last couple of weeks they meet a Bulls side desparate for points to stay in the hunt for the top 4. And they will get them here. There just seems nowhere that the Reds will get the edge. Poor up front, with an average scrum and overwhelmed loosies, a non existent midfield and their best player out of form. All Mooney will be hoping for is an attitude adjustment I reckon, a bit of bloody-mindedness to give some hope for the future, otherwise it is going to be a hell of a season. The Bulls are coming back to their belligerent best. Bakkies Botha is always a key with his on the edge physicality and they look a much better team with him playing.

Bulls 13+

Lions v Sharks: Should be a convincing Sharks win – they have named a strong team and a hell of a bench, have won 6 of the last 7 games played between these sides, with the other a draw, and just look too damn good. The only hope for the Lions is if they can make it trench warfare, but I think the Sharks are too good for that. The big question – from how far out will Steyn be able to kick a drop goal – I reckon he should have a go from 65 out. In fact the Sharks should just camp on the halfway and let him bomb away!

Sharks 13+