8 Aug

The 'D' In All Blacks
by Paul Waite
8 Aug 2010

The All Blacks arm-wrestled the Wallabies and won the contest 20 – 10 and two tries to one, in what was a true test match to put the Bledisloe Cup safely away in the trophy cabinet for another season.

The opening minutes of this test saw the teams going at breath-taking speed, recycling the ball and each endlessly probing the other in great lung-busting efforts of ruck-a-thon rugby. The accuracy levels were high on both sides, however the All Blacks showed that they don’t just rely on the drilled patterns the Wallabies produce, but can also bring out the X-Factor to score tries.

The first 15 minutes of the game brought two beauts, punctuated by an Aussie reply from an All Black turnover.

The first New Zealand try came from a couple of bursts up the left from Smith and Mealamu to put the Wallaby defence on the back foot. Rokocoko then took the pass at high speed, evaded the second-to-last line of defence before spinning it wide to Mils Muliaina who danced inside the chalk, evading the fullback as well as any winger ever has, to dot down. It was a classic try built on well-timed passes and speed.

The All Blacks were playing with tails well up in the air, however they over-reached themselves when Carter lost the ball trying to pop it up in the tackle just over half-way. With everyone pushed up it was a gift to the Wallabies and Pocock and Sharpe put Kurtley Beale away, albeit with what looked like a forward pass. Beale then ran the ball in with Carter in lone and futile pursuit.

Carter made amends by breaking the line a few minutes later, popping the ball up to Weepu who spun it left to Ma’a Nonu who was dangerous all game. With the Aussie defence struggling and out of alignment, he made the most of it by running into some space and then putting Conrad Smith over in the corner. The referee went upstairs to confirm the grounding, but it was fine.

Given this opening, it was hard to believe, after the game had ended, that the remainder of the test saw no more tries scored. The Wallabies gradually asserted themselves in the posession stakes, and showed themselves to be better at maintaining the ball than the All Blacks were. This meant they gradually climbed into the driving seat of the test, something which didn’t go unnoticed by the Three Wise Men.

A further penalty to the both teams saw the scores still quite close on 17 – 10 at halftime, and just before they came out for the second half, an interviewed Steve Hansen said the team had been told to step up their intensity and get back in control of the test instead of allowing the Wallabies to dictate proceedings.

In the event, that didn’t happen. The story of the second half was, basically, Australian attack versus All Black defence.

But the All Blacks showed that they once again have the mettle and abilities to defend what, in the current game, is a slender lead.

For the Wallabies, the lesson they will have learned is that you can drill away for hours developing the patterns that will enable you to keep the ball and recycle it endlessly, but against the top sides you need to do more than that. You need to have that X-Factor of variation and genius that will create the gap and the opening for the try scoring opportunity, and you have to take it.

After the test the Wallaby comment was they failed to take their chances. Well I thought they took all the ones that were on offer, in reality, and that was just the single one given to them by a Carter mistake.

Australia also sent it’s top pundit over, Matt Dunning (also affectionately known as Matt Dumpling amongst his friends). Matt was obviously there to offer the typically balanced and informed Australian sportsman’s viewpoint, and did so with statements like "we could easily have won that test but every time the Wallabies got the ball they gave it straight back again".

Well I’m not sure what Matt understands by the phrase "straight back" here, but from my viewpoint, the Wallabies did everything BUT that. The All Blacks couldn’t get their hands on the ball for 10 minutes at a stretch as Wallabies went through their recycling drills like a bunch of gym bunnies making an aerobics video for large blokes with masochistic tendencies.

No, the Wallabies had so much possession that they couldn’t even wag a finger at it, let alone shake a stick. It was embarassing how much of the ball they had, without scoring with it. That should be the point that Matt takes back with him over the Tasman. Matt could even use this as a nice little example of how not to play the game, in his up-coming book "Rugby for Dumplings".

The All Blacks now have a week off, whilst Aussies have to schlepp all the way over to South Africa for some sun and a good hiding from a fresh but very angry Springboks team. Lucky them.

I have to say that this season’s draw has been just about perfect for the All Blacks, and I would recommend that SANZAR have it this way around every year. None of that starting the series with a trip to South Africa, playing two tests then travelling to Sydney for one there rubbish.

After the week off the All Blacks will then travel to South Africa, nicely freshened up, to take on the Boks, hopefully by that time sitting sated with eyes glazed over, gorged on Wallaby blood.

So for now congratulations to the All Blacks for locking up the Bledisloe Cup for another season!

[That trophy is so much more important to New Zealanders than the Tri-Nations, it doesn't even bear talking about, so I won't mention it.]

Paul Waite

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31 Jul

Two Flashes of Genius From Jane
by Paul Waite
31 Jul 2010

The All Blacks took it to the Wallabies on their own patch at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, scoring a resounding 49-28, 7 tries to 3 victory.

It has to be said that what could have been an absolute cracker of a test match was ruined by the muppet with the whistle. I don’t have an issue with referees being reasonably strict interpreting the Laws, but South African Craig Joubert obviously studied at the Hitlerian University of Rugby Refereeing, then presumably went on to do a Ph.D. in ‘The Effects on a Rugby Game of Blowing A Whistle and Waving Yellow and Red Cards Around’.

To say that Joubert had an eagle eye for an offence is the same as saying Stalin was a bit of a naughty boy. It wouldn’t be so bad if all, or even most other referees did the same things, giving the players a heads-up on what to expect, but he’s so different it just makes it all very silly.

Just to show you how silly I thought it was, when Drew Mitchell was yellow-carded for the second time for interfering with the ball after the whistle had gone (preventing a quick play by an All Black) and therefore had to march off for good with Joubert waving him goodbye with a shiny red piece of plastic, I actually felt sorry for the Wallabies! Which, I have to tell you, was quite unnerving since it has never happened to me before.

Well of course we then had a test match with 15 men against 14, with three-quarters of the time left – pretty much a ruined game if ever there was one. Yes, Australia did rally in the second half and provide a huge amount of fight, but the result was never in doubt and that was hard to take.

The kicker was, the game would have been a hum-dinger with 15 vs 15, and the All Blacks would have had to fight that much harder for supremacy.

So let’s get to a bit of the actual rugby. The test started out with two mistakes by the No.10′s Carter and Barnes. Carter was up first, doing that lazy clearance thing I’ve seen as an intermittent fault in his game for a long time. He received the pass, then took ages to run and clear, getting it charged down and giving away a soft try. Just to show that whatever the All Blacks could do, they could match it, the Aussies passed the ball to their own idiot, and Berrick Barnes proceeded to gift none other than Dan Carter himself with a charge-down and resulting try. All within 5 minutes of each other which was quite bizarre.

After that the teams started playing some real rugby, and the All Blacks looked the better side immediately. Their carries went further, and their defence was harder. They also seemed to have that little bit more variation moving the ball. Though the Wallabies moved the ball energetically and fast, it tended to get too lateral too quickly, and they ended up going from side to side.

Of course the refereeing wasn’t helping much. With both sides determined to keep the ball in hand the breakdown and tackling came in for some very anally-retentive rulings from Joubert. Every little real and indeed imaginary thing was picked up by his antenna. A case in point being a collision/tackle made by Whitelock and I think McCaw which had the unfortunate Wallaby sandwiched and flipping horizontally then falling onto the deck. Joubert erroneously saw this as a ‘tip tackle’, but luckily his brain didn’t manage to conjure up a jersey number so nobody got sent to the bin in error that time.

The test was notable for two pieces of shear magic conjured by All Black winger Cory Jane. The first involved the ball being spun to his right wing on the Wallaby 10m mark where he made ground but encountered the fearsome Rocky Elsom coming at him to barge him out of play. Jane calmly fended Elsom with his left hand, giving him time to drop the ball from his right and put in a beautifully weighted centring chip for Mils Muliaina to run onto and score.

In the second he received the ball out on the same wing 15m out with a player to beat and Genia coming at him like an express train from in-field. He fended the first player, stepped past, judged Genia’s speed and angle and checked then changed direction in-field to wrong-foot him just enough to be able to step through and score the try. The clever way he assessed and used all of the dynamics of everything going on around him with split-second timing were just a joy to watch.

Unfortunately for the All Blacks late in the first half Jimmy Cowan got a rib injury and Piri Weepu had to come on. Weepu is a redoutable half-back but we needed Cowan’s style of game against the Aussies, and we greatly missed his fast pass, and darting runs around the ruck. That, together with a game Aussie fight-back saw the All Blacks game drop off in the second half to a level that they will be disappointed with when they review the recording of the test. In the final quarter they were not supporting the ball-carrier anywhere near the level they had been, and lost possession to turnovers several times as a result. This saw the momentum gained in the first half dissipate somewhat, and the machine stuttered.

Even so it had enough umph to score a couple more tries, and the eventual tally of 7 tries to 3, 49 points to 28 will have Graham Henry chortling over his glass of medicinal port tonight. With a 15 point maximum out of three 3N tests so far, only an idiot would put money against the All Blacks for the Tri-Nations this season, although the Bledisloe Cup is the real prize everyone wants to see retained in the NZRU’s trophy cabinet.

The Wallabies will take a little bit of comfort from the fact they battled well with the deficit of 14 men, however it was only a winger they lost, and they were being beaten quite handily before it happened, and now have to play the All Blacks back here in New Zealand. So I doubt much celebrating will be going on over in Camp Dingo tonight, and basically they have to face up to the fact that they were given a good hiding on their own turf whilst probably playing to their best abilities.

For the All Blacks, it was a good performance but it was definitely very patchy. The second half saw some of the wheels wobbling, if not coming off, and there is certainly a lot of improvement to be had.

As for the referee, there was nothing that a cold bath followed by a double labotomy couldn’t see right. I’m not sure how SANZAR or the IRB handle their referees, but I’d like to imagine that a report is being written which contains the phrases ‘over-zealous’, ‘utter wanker’ and ‘should never be allowed near a rugby pitch again’.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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5 May

Headlines
by Tracey Nelson
5 May 2010

Headlines for the week May 4th, 2009

MacDonald farewells NZ rugby

Crusaders fullback Leon MacDonald will return to Japan to play his rugby for the Kintetsu club at the end of this year’s Super 14, which will end an All Black career that started back in 2000. MacDonald spent a season with the Japanese club side Yamaha back in 2004, but returned to Crusaders and All Black rugby at year later. A serious concussion suffered when playing the Springboks in Dunedin cut his international season short last year, and injuries also sidelined at times during this year’s Super 14. MacDonald has played 56 tests for the All Blacks, 116 Super games (Crusaders and Chiefs), and 69 provincial games (Canterbury and Malborough).

Key All Blacks re-sign with NZRU

Mils Muliaina has re-signed with the NZRU and the Waikato Rugby Union through until 2011, while Ali Williams and Tony Woodcock have both re-signed with the NZRU through until 2012. Williams’ contract also contains a "sabbatical" clause allowing him time away from NZ next year. The three join join 2008 All Blacks Richie McCaw, Rodney So’oialo, Keven Mealamu, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Brad Thorn, Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, John Afoa, Andy Ellis, Richard Kahui, Brendon Leonard, Jamie Mackintosh, Rudi Wulf and Liam Messam, who are all signed with New Zealand rugby through to 2011 or beyond.

Latest Playing Apparel Revealed for All Blacks

At a launch in Auckland this week adidas revealed the two new All Black jerseys for 2009. Both jerseys feature a fern pattern across the front. A new all-white All Blacks jersey will be used as a second kit to complement the traditional, famous black apparel. The white jersey includes a white collar and New Zealand’s national symbol, the silver fern, on the left breast in black. It will be worn with the traditional black shorts and black sock with white stripes. The white jersey will only be worn when the All Blacks are playing outside of New Zealand when required in line with the IRB’s revised policy of the away team needing to change jerseys in the event of a clash. The first outing of the white jersey will be against France in Marseille, November this year.

New referees secure Test appointments

Bryce Lawrence has been appointment to control the opening Test between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions this June. In addition to the first Lions Test, Lawrence has also been named as Assistant Referee for the second Test and as Television Match Official for the third Test. He will also control a Tri-Nations match between Australia and South Africa in Perth in August.

Vinnie Munro joins Lawrence in all three Lions Tests as an Assistant Referee, while Chris Pollock and Keith Brown will both referee a Rugby World Cup qualifier each in June as well as officiate games at the IRB Junior World Championship in Japan in the same month.

Heartland Championship teams to trial Player of Origin

Heartland Provincial Rugby Unions will get the opportunity to have a Player of Origin in their 22-man Heartland Championship squads this year as part of a trial undertaken by the New Zealand Rugby Union. The Player of Origin will be in addition to the three loan players unions are entitled to have in their teams under current regulations. A Player of Origin will be defined as a person who from the age of 12-18 played rugby in the relevant Heartland Provincial Union (either for a club or school) for at least three years who is now playing club rugby outside the province.

SANZAR

The NZRU and Australian Rugby Union will continue to work towards expanding Super Rugby from 2011 in partnership with South Africa despite the current impasse in negotiations with SA Rugby. NZRU CEO Steve Tew and ARU Managing Director and CEO John O’Neill said this week that a continuation of the SANZAR alliance at provincial level remains the preferred option for both national unions.

Both New Zealand and Australia are determined to deliver a competition of the highest integrity to supporters and broadcasters and believe South African calls for further compromise will impact on that commitment. Talks will therefore continue on an alternative plan – an Asia-Pacific competition – to ensure a valuable and viable tournament is ready for implementation should resolution not be reached with South Africa on Super Rugby expansion plans.

20 May

It's the Super 15
by Tracey Nelson
20 May 2009

Apparently the bigwigs in SANZAR are of the opinion that the southern hemisphere rugby market is not saturated and that there will be plenty of spectator interest in the new 24-week Super 15 competition when it kicks off in 2011. One plus to the expanded comp though is an extended play-offs series between six teams rather than just four as stands at the moment.

After lengthy discussions over the past months between the three SANZAR partners, a compromise has finally been reached and the Super competition will be expanded to include another team – although quite where that side will come from is anyone’s guess. The competition will be split into three conferences, based in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. With South Africa and New Zealand already having five sides each, obviously it is out of the Australian conference that this 15th side will play in. But, despite Melbourne and the Gold Coast being suggested, there will be a tender process open to all-comers which could include a Pacific Islands side, Japan or even an Argentinian team.

The new competition has been structured as follows:

  • It will start in late February and conclude in the first week of August (except in 2011 when it will start and finish earlier to accommodate the Rugby World Cup).
  • Within each conference, all sides will play one another both home and away.
  • They will then play four out of the five teams from each of the other two conferences (four home and four away games).
  • Next will come a break in June to allow for the three countries to host in-bound tests from the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The Super 15 will then continue in July with each conference winner earning automatic entry into the finals.
  • There will be three other qualifiers and they will be teams that have scored the highest number of points across any of the three conferences.
  • The playoffs will take place over three weeks. The three qualifiers and the conference winner with the least competition points will play off to determine which two teams go through to the semis to meet the two conference winners with the highest competition points.

At the completion of the Super 14 the TriNations will start in South Africa in mid-August and conclude with two of the three Bledisloe tests in early October – this is to allow the early release of Springboks to play in the Currie Cup. This will effectively remove All Blacks from playing in the ANZC due to the overlap of the two competitions.

6 May

Headlines May 6th 2009
by Tracey Nelson
6 May 2009

MacDonald farewells NZ rugby

Crusaders fullback Leon MacDonald will return to Japan to play his rugby for the Kintetsu club at the end of this year’s Super 14, which will end an All Black career that started back in 2000. MacDonald spent a season with the Japanese club side Yamaha back in 2004, but returned to Crusaders and All Black rugby at year later. A serious concussion suffered when playing the Springboks in Dunedin cut his international season short last year, and injuries also sidelined at times during this year’s Super 14. MacDonald has played 56 tests for the All Blacks, 116 Super games (Crusaders and Chiefs), and 69 provincial games (Canterbury and Malborough).

Key All Blacks re-sign with NZRU

Mils Muliaina has re-signed with the NZRU and the Waikato Rugby Union through until 2011, while Ali Williams and Tony Woodcock have both re-signed with the NZRU through until 2012. Williams’ contract also contains a ‘sabbatical’ clause allowing him time away from NZ next year. The three join join 2008 All Blacks Richie McCaw, Rodney So’oialo, Keven Mealamu, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Brad Thorn, Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, John Afoa, Andy Ellis, Richard Kahui, Brendon Leonard, Jamie Mackintosh, Rudi Wulf and Liam Messam, who are all signed with New Zealand rugby through to 2011 or beyond.

Latest Playing Apparel Revealed for All Blacks

At a launch in Auckland this week adidas revealed the two new All Black jerseys for 2009. Both jerseys feature a fern pattern across the front. A new all-white All Blacks jersey will be used as a second kit to complement the traditional, famous black apparel. The white jersey includes a white collar and New Zealand’s national symbol, the silver fern, on the left breast in black. It will be worn with the traditional black shorts and black sock with white stripes. The white jersey will only be worn when the All Blacks are playing outside of New Zealand when required in line with the IRB’s revised policy of the away team needing to change jerseys in the event of a clash. The first outing of the white jersey will be against France in Marseille, November this year.

New referees secure Test appointments

Bryce Lawrence has been appointment to control the opening Test between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions this June. In addition to the first Lions Test, Lawrence has also been named as Assistant Referee for the second Test and as Television Match Official for the third Test. He will also control a Tri-Nations match between Australia and South Africa in Perth in August.

Vinnie Munro joins Lawrence in all three Lions Tests as an Assistant Referee, while Chris Pollock and Keith Brown will both referee a Rugby World Cup qualifier each in June as well as officiate games at the IRB Junior World Championship in Japan in the same month.

Heartland Championship teams to trial Player of Origin

Heartland Provincial Rugby Unions will get the opportunity to have a Player of Origin in their 22-man Heartland Championship squads this year as part of a trial undertaken by the New Zealand Rugby Union. The Player of Origin will be in addition to the three loan players unions are entitled to have in their teams under current regulations. A Player of Origin will be defined as a person who from the age of 12-18 played rugby in the relevant Heartland Provincial Union (either for a club or school) for at least three years who is now playing club rugby outside the province.

SANZAR

The NZRU and Australian Rugby Union will continue to work towards expanding Super Rugby from 2011 in partnership with South Africa despite the current impasse in negotiations with SA Rugby. NZRU CEO Steve Tew and ARU Managing Director and CEO John O’Neill said this week that a continuation of the SANZAR alliance at provincial level remains the preferred option for both national unions.

Both New Zealand and Australia are determined to deliver a competition of the highest integrity to supporters and broadcasters and believe South African calls for further compromise will impact on that commitment. Talks will therefore continue on an alternative plan – an Asia-Pacific competition – to ensure a valuable and viable tournament is ready for implementation should resolution not be reached with South Africa on Super Rugby expansion plans.

28 Apr

Headlines
by Tracey Nelson
28 Apr 2009

Headlines from the current week

Luke McAlister will be signing with North Harbour and will play for the Blues in the 2010 Super 14, scuttling rumours that he may have been signing with the Hurricanes. McAlister is due back in New Zealand in June, and is likely to play for the Junior All Blacks so that he is available for selection for the TriNations series that kicks off in mid-July.

Chris Jack is returning to New Zealand from his time with the Saracens club in the UK and will play for the Crusaders in the 2010 Super 14. It is most likely Jack will sign with Tasman rather than Canterbury, as his wife’s family live in Nelson and they have close ties with the area. Jack has signed with the NZRU through to 2011, but will not be playing Air NZ Cup rugby this year.

Referee Steve Walsh has retired from his job with the NZRU. As the result of an enquiry into an employment problem that occurred at a SANZAR referee meeting in Sydney in December 2008, an agreement was made between Walsh and the NZRU, who will pay him out until the end of the year. Walsh admitted in a radio interview that he has struggled with both personal issues and alcohol in the past two years, and fully took responsibility for what had happened. Walsh made his National Referee Squad debut in 1996 and in total refereed 212 first class games, including 35 Test matches.

Security is not likely to be stepped up at North Harbour Stadium despite Blues’ coaches Pat Lam and Shane Howarth being verbally abused by an enraged fan during the Blues-Reds game on Saturday night. The disgruntled spectator made his way into the coaches’ box which is situated near the top of the main stand, and shredded his ticket as he vented his displeasure at the Blues’ performance on the night. Having left the box, he then returned to have another go and managed to leave again before security could apprehend him. The two coaches were escorted from the box by security after the conclusion of the match.

An administrative bungle has allowed Chiefs No 8 Sione Lauaki to escape any further punishment from a citing for a dangerous tackle during the Chiefs game against the Bulls over the weekend. Lauaki was yellow carded 10 minutes before half time after felling Bryan Habana with high tackle and was cited after the match. However, somewhat ludicrously the citing was dismissed on technical grounds because it was not received within the prescribed 12 hour period after the finish of the game. Lauaki will thereforebe available for the Chiefs game against the Stormers at Cape Town in their final match in South Africa before returning to New Zealand for the final two rounds.

1 Apr

ELVs to be sanctioned into law
by Tracey Nelson
1 Apr 2009

An International Rugby Board conference in London has reviewed the impact of the various experimental law variations (ELVs) being trialled around the world, and will recommend to the IRB’s Technical Committee Meeting on May 13 this year that ten ELVs be adopted into law.

The IRB conferencewas made up of60 representatives from the major fifteen unions, and a detailed review including game analysis and statistical surveys from over 800 games was carried out over two days. New Zealand was represented by Steve Tew, Neil Sorenson, Steve Hansen and Lyndon Bray (NZRU Referee Manager).

There are no major surprises in theten ELVs to be recommended, with laws such as the pass-back -which prevents ground from being made with a kick to touch if the ball has been passed back into the 22 – being an obvious favourite amongst all countries. Likewise the 5m offside line at the scrum was also unanimously recommended to go forward.

Two ELVs that won’t be recommended are the the variations allowing sacking (pulling down) of mauls, and the freedom for teams to choose how many players they put in a lineout. The sacking of mauls was a contentious ELV, with Ireland and Italy in particular voicing their dissatisfaction. Chris Cuthbertson, chair of the Rugby Football Union’s ELV Task group said: “The feedback from the Game and our game analysis indicates that pulling down the maul and unrestricted numbers in the line-out have not improved the game.”

Steve Hansen reported that while discussions had been “robust, with plenty of debate”, there was no suggestion of a Northern vs Southern Hemisphere split over the ELVs. Currently only the SANZAR compeitions (Super 14 and TriNations) are trialling the sanctions law at the breakdown, where free kicks rather than penalties are awarded for all but off-side offences. This ELV has been reccommended for further investigation and review.

Unfortunately the ELV sanctions have done nothing to tidy up the breakdown, and the IRB will be looking at the laws surrounding the breakdown areas of tackles, rucks and mauls. Confusion and lack of consistency with rulings at the breakdown have led to less attacking play and an increase in kicking as teams have become more hesistant at taking the ball into contact.

The IRB’s rugby committee will finalise their list of recommendations at a meeting in Dublin on 27 April before they go before the full IRB council meeting on 13 May.

The following ELVs will be recommended to be passed into law:

Law 6 – Assistant referees allowed
Law 19 – Kicking directly into touch from ball played back into
22 equals no gain in ground
Law 19 – Quick throw permitted in any direction except forward
Law 19 – Positioning of player in opposition to the player
throwing-in to be two metres away from line-out and the line of
touch
Law 19 – Pre-gripping of line-out jumpers allowed
Law 19 – Lifting in the line-out allowed
Law 19 – Positioning of receiver must be two metres away from
line-out
Law 20 – Five-metre offside line at the scrum
Law 20 – Scrum-half offside line at the scrum
Law 22 – Corner posts no longer touch in goal

The ELVs not recommended are:

Law 17 – Maul, head and shoulders not to be lower than hips
Law 17 – Maul, pulling down the maul
Law 19 – Freedom for each team to determine line-out numbers

The ELVs still under review are:

Sanctions and free-kicks at the breakdown

7 Apr

Halftime in the ELVs – analysis of the experimental laws
by Tracey Nelson
7 Apr 2008

AB_scrumIn the three years since the ELVs were first discussed at IRB headquarter in Ireland, we’ve seen them trialled in Scotland, South Africa and Australia, while here in New Zealand we saw them for the first time in the 2007 Provincial B competition. In 2008 we have seen them trialled at the highest level yet, in the Super 14 competition. Now that we’ve passed the halfway mark in the round robin part of the competition, it’s probably timely to take a look at the impact the ELVs have had on the game so far.

Keeping in mind that SANZAR wisely decided not to trial all the ELVsas they settled on the most obvious and, theoretically, the easiest of the ELVs to adapt to for both the players, referees and spectators. Thankfully they steered away from the more contentious ELVs such as being allowed to use hands in rucks, pulling down mauls and various lineout changes. So how have the ELVs we did adopt changed the game to date? I’ve used numbers from the ARU and some of my own stats from games I’ve watched over the past eight weeks to take a closer look.

For starters, despite some worries that the game would become a helter skelter running fest, it would appear that the time for ball in play has only increased marginally since last year (33 minutes in 2007 versus around 34 minutes in 2008), although it does depend on which teams are playing. Games between NZ and SA teams tend to see more ball in play (almost 37 minutes) than games between NZ and Australian sides. Perhaps something to do with NZ teams attempting to speed the game up against the bigger SA sides by electing to tap the ball from free kicks, but dominate the lesser scrummaging abilities of the Australian sides by taking the scrum option from free kicks.

Interestingly, there was more ball in play time (42 minutes) in the recent Six Nations test between Ireland and Wales, despite the staggering fact that 58% of points in this year’s Six Nations tournament came from kicks at goal. So even though southern hemisphere sides score more points via tries than kicks at goal, the ball isn’t in play for any greater length of time even under the ELVs. Therefore, that should dispel some of the myths that the ELVs will turn rugby into a running fest that only hybrid players will be able to cope with.

Additional concerns that the game might morph into something resembling league should also have been quashed, with the stats showing that there are more scrums per game under the ELVs. In fact, scrums (and good scrums at that) have become a very important feature of the ELV game. With both backlines now required to be 5m back from the scrum, we are seeing 25% of tries coming from scrums compared with just 19% in 2007. Any front rower worth his salt should be championing the ELVs, because if ever there was a need for good scrummagers it is under these conditions.

Locks may have some cause for complaint, because due to the ELV stating that when the ball is passed, put or taken back into the 22 a direct kick into touch will result in no gain in territory, there seems to be a bizarre phobia about kicking the ball into touch at most stages of the game. The number of lineouts per game has decreased as a result, down about 17% on 2007, and the number of tries scored from lineouts has shown an equivalent decrease. So whereas in 2007 the lineout was the set piece of choice to score tries from, this season it has become the scrum.

The number of turnovers has not changed significantly, there is a slight increase in ruck turnovers but only by a couple per game. There have been more tries scored from turnovers this year but that is probably less to do with the ELVs and more to do with the stark contrasts in the calibre of some sides to others given a few of the high scoring matches in the early rounds. The number of tries scored from quick taps after a free kick has been awarded has nearly doubled from around 8% to 15%, but the number of tries from general kicks in play hasn’t changed from the previous season. The number of passes and kicks per game has not dramatically increased either. Yes it’s true – despite what it seems there aren’t more kicks per game this year, just fewer kicks going out over the touchline.

Under the ELVs for all offences the sanction is now a Free Kick with the exceptions of offside, not entering through the gate, and Law 10 Foul Play. Accordingly there has been a decrease in the number of penalties and an increase in the number of free kicks awarded . Hardly rocket science to figure that would happen. But while things seemed to work quite well for the first couple of rounds under the free kick system, eventually teams cottoned on that you could slow the ball down at the tackle and only concede a free kick – and once again the breakdown turned into the same old disaster area of confusion it had been under the old laws. Somewhere along the way the concept that cynical and clearly obvious offending (i.e. Law 10) should be penalised was lost in ELV translation during the early rounds of the competition, but since Round 5 we have seen a harder line from most referees and thankfully we are now seeing penalties awarded for cynical play and yellow cards dished out for obvious and repeat offending.

The push to trial the ELVs started back with the IRB in 2005, the main driving force behind it being to make the game simpler and help the referees. Yes, you read that correctly. It was an IRB initiative and the whole idea was to make on-field ruling a simpler task for the referees. So it’s been disappointing to hear rumblings from the northern hemisphere about the ELVs, such as comments last month from Gareth Davies where he suggested “in adversity, the disappointing response from the southern hemisphere is a clamour to change the laws of the game – not to get to grips with the real problem. It is clear for all and sundry to see that Australia need to focus on a solid foundation from which their creative and talented backs can launch themselves, not a needless obssession with tinkering of the laws”. Well back the bus up, Boy-o. With all due respect, if the nothern hemisphere actually bothered to take a closer look at how the game is developing under the ELVs they might discover that a solid foundation in the form of a decent tight five anda strongscrum is exactly what you need under the ELVs – if not more so than under the old laws.

Where the IRB go from here is anyone’s guess. The one thing the ELVs have shown thus far is that they are not making rulings at the breakdown any more clear cut for referees than under the old laws, and once again it comes back not to the laws themselves but how well they are policed. Until the IRB can sort their referees out and get common consistency in rulings between the two hemispheres, they can probably tinker and change the laws until the cows come home, but equally coaches and players will forever be trying to find away around them. Some of the ELV changes are sensible, such as changes to the quick throw-in, and not kicking out on the full from a ball carried back into the 22. I personally like the backlines 5m back from the scrum, some people hate it. Other changes in the game still remain a grey area. So we shall continue to watch the ELVs for the duration of this Super 14, but something tells me that this may be the only time we will see them played at an international level.

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.

1 Jul

John O'Groats Speaks Out
by Paul Waite
1 Jul 2007

Having finished up a highly successful mission abroad offending large numbers of people for lots of money, John O’Groats has once again slipped his Armani-trousered derriere into the Chief Executives chair of the ARU.

Once there he immediately got up again and, as is his wont, started to do what he’s best at – making the easy things hard, and the hard things even harder. Here is a news media report of a recent address, together with some helpful editorial clarifications to aid understanding (our thanks to The Anger Management Weekly).



Angered by South Africa’s decision to send an understrength Tri-Nations squad to Australasia, O’Groats revealed the Australian Rugby Union was considering seeking compensation.

The returning ARU chief executive then also suggested the Super 14 should be extended and expanded if European nations continued to send second-string teams south in the winter.

“It’s my first day in the job and I’m very angry about this,” he said of the Springbok “betrayal”.

[There's nothing like a bit of perspective, balance and restraint, and true enough, this is nothing like it. - Ed.]

“You expect it from the northern hemisphere nations but you don’t expect it from your Sanzar partners, it’s not in the spirit of the relationship.”

[O'Groats is very well-placed to know all about what is, and is not, in the spirit of a relationship, owing to the valuable experience he acquired when managing the 2003 Rugby World Cup co-hosting rights 'betrayal' of his counterparts, the New Zealand Rugby Union. - Ed.]

O’Groats said South Africa, which claimed leading players needed to be rested for their welfare before the World Cup, had given an unsatisfactory response to the ARU’s disapproval.

[That would be "unsatisfactory" on the What Satisfies John O'Meter we suppose. That's the meter with a scale of a huge red zone from 0-9 and a tiny green zone at 10 labelled "Everything My Way" - Ed.]

It has ARU officials raising the issue of compensation, in the order of $A200,000 ($NZ223,000) for potential lost gate revenue for the July 7 Springbok clash in Sydney, to the SARU.

[Rumour has it that, following this very same reasoning, legal sources assert the New Zealand Rugby Union has grounds for suing the Australian Union for a much larger amount due to the Wallabies being such a useless bunch of losers over the years resulting in poorer gate receipts and betting income for the TAB than would have otherwise been the case. - Ed.]

“That issue has to be on the table,” O’Groats said.

“If this was a normal commercial transaction and if one party had arguably not met their end of the bargain then the other party would be looking at some claim for damages.

“But that’s not the rugby way and I accept that but the financial damage and the reputational (sic) damage has to be spelt out.”

[Unfortunately we have discovered that "reputational" can't be spelled out at all because it isn't actually in the dictionary. - Ed.]

O’Groats warned the damage filtered down to broadcasting rights, with a new contract to be renegotiated with News Ltd at the end of 2010.

“What if our broadcasters and sponsors claim on us and say you didn’t deliver what you promised to deliver. Then you have to have recourse to someone,” he said.

“I’m trying to get through to (South Africa) that this can have a knock-on effect.

[Well you should settle that with a scrum then. Oh I forgot, Australians couldn't scrum against a team of grannies. - Ed.]

“We are only two-and-a-half years away from a new broadcasting deal. Do you really think News Ltd and the broadcasters that they have sold the rights to haven’t noticed this and noticed the resting of 22 New Zealand players in the first seven rounds?”

O’Groats will spell out his concerns on the effect of the World Cup and the reluctance of European clubs to release test players for southern tours to the IRB in the coming months.

[It took O'Groats only four paragraphs of his first speech to threaten and rubbish the South African Rugby Union, ten more to stick something very long and spiky up the rear end of the New Zealand Rugby Union, and a further single paragraph to tee-up the Europeans for a bit of a tickle. O'Groats ought to be leading the UN diplomatic effort in the Middle East. He'd clear up the little problems they're having over there in no time. - Ed.]

“We’re used to doing battle on this issue due to the club v country dilemma and there are regulations that cover that but now we’re in a World Cup year and it’s Rafferty’s rules,” he said.

“(There’s a view) the holy grail is September to October and so everything that leads into that, doesn’t matter. Well sorry, commercial partners won’t accept that.

“If we have to deliver protocols in a World Cup year, well let’s do it.

“I guess the message now is that we have to turn our minds to preserve the integrity and protocol of the international contest. Otherwise we will fall into friendlies.

[The pieces of gibberish making up the previous couple of paras have all of us completely stumped. At the time of going to press, no actual meaning could be elicited from these words. - Ed.]

“If the encroachment of (European) club competitions become so extensive then you have to really start to think about some options about expanding Super rugby is a better way to go.”

O’Groats was speaking after attending the 1400-strong Weary Dunlop Lunch in Melbourne, where he announced the city would host a Wallabies-Ireland Test at the MCG or Telstra Dome next year.

A guest at the lunch was predecessor Lands End, who resigned in May.



The above speech was put through the WotESaid program, a special high-powered software package which condenses prose into its component parts, removes all of the meaningless verbage and para-phrases the remainder into concise sentences. We felt that O’Groats speech required it. Here is the condensed meaning of that speech (certain ‘technical’ jargon has been removed on the grounds they might cause too much clarity):

“South Africa can go and —- itself, or be —-ed by me, and either way I’m going to win. New Zealand can go and —- itself AND be —-ed by me because it’s a hobby of mine that I like very much indulging in and intend to keep on doing happily in the years to come. The Europeans can just —- off generally. And all you buggers here listening can —- right off too, because I don’t give a —- what I say as long as I make an unfavourable impression.”
(the above condensate has an accuracy level of 99%)

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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