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Law tests get tick of approval

The new Scottish Super Cup has become the latest laboratory to test law changes which may have a radical effect on the game. The first of these matches was played at Old Anniesland in Glasgow between Glasgow Hawks and Boroughmuir.

Richard White has been kind enough to send us a report on the effect of these experimental law variations (ELVs) in this match.

The changes are aimed at speeding up the game and encouraging consistency in officiating. Penalty kicks are only for foul play and off-side, the maul may be pulled down, passing back into the 22 does not give the kicker the right to kick directly into touch and gain ground, handling in the ruck is allowed, quick throw-ins may go backwards and there is no maximum number in line-outs. (To see the ELVs more extensively explained click here.)

Richard White writes:

I thought you might be interested in a view after watching the first of the Scottish games under the experimental law variations, Glasgow Hawks 28 vs Boroughmuir 32, four tries each. The match was played in January in Glasgow with conditions as good as you could hope for - mild, little wind, pitch soaked but not too cut up. Referee was Rob Dickson, and we hardly noticed him all game, which was a great result!

Some observations and comments:

The ball was in play for a long time - Boroughmuir's Webmonkey videos most games and usually has around 20 minutes of play per half. Today he had 25 minutes, and a high proportion of that time the ball was in open play, not buried in a maul/ruck/pile-up thing but in hand being run with. And little hanging around waiting for penalties to be taken.

A high proportion of quick throw-ins enabled attacks from deep, but it also meant that sides chased kicks all the way, covering off the quick throw-in.

There were not many free kicks, but they were usually taken quickly and run.

The result of this is that players need to be physically fitter to cope with the extra playing time and faster nature of the game, but also need to concentrate all the time - there were few times when players could "switch-off". This may a factor that has been mostly overlooked. Players will come off the field even more physically and mentally drained.

For a while (two seasons) Scotland club game has had rolling subs - I think 12 interchanges during the game. Again this may be a change that will be required to make the new rules work widely.

Almost paradoxically scrums become more important. New engagement guidelines plus straight feeds and extra space mean they are a competition again and a great platform to attack from.

We saw little mucking about at line-outs. Both Hawks and Boroughmuir at times on their own throw had fewer players but still won the ball. The temptation is to move it away from the line-out as soon as possible. Hawks tried a couple of five-metre catch-and-drives that got nowhere, but scored from a 10-metre scrum. Coincidence? I think not.

Both sides had a couple of jinky wingers (Rory Coupar and Max Evans) who played important roles, but so did Boroughmuir's big strong running winger (James White) and two props (Freddie Lait and Cam Ward). Both props and Coupar scored tries. My conclusion is that rugby has shifted back to a 15-man game - admittedly on the evidence of only one game!

Tackles and "rucks" seemed to work well. Initially Hawks stole loads of ball, but Boroughmuir got cuter and began pushing the ball back after the tackle and driving over. Pretty much what should be best practice under existing laws.

I perceived a certain unwillingness to go into unnecessary contact. Because the tackle area became much more of a competition for the ball and mauls can be pulled down it isn't a safe option to "stick it up the jumper and rumble upfield". It actually becomes a high-risk option! Doubtless teams will become more adept at protecting the ball in driving mauls, but initial signs were positive.

We still heard complaints from players and crowd ("He's off his feet ref", and bizarrely "He's handling in the ruck"!) but not many. Biggest challenge for referees seems to be to manage off-side, but if flaggies (as I assume Flag-Judges will be called!) can help we have a chance of some space on the field, and the referee's influence will be much reduced - Rob was able to let the game flow.

Rugby won't turn into League or 15-man sevens, but switching between the codes will become easier.

And some opinions:

You know that great flanker who gives away too many penalties at the ruck and so always plays in the second team? Well, his time has come! Slow ball-playing flankers (Michael Owen of Wales?) will migrate to the second row.

The best balanced sides will win, not the ones with the biggest packs. (After watching Hawks/Boroughmuir we watched the second half of Sale-Gloucester, and what a turgid wrestle-fest that was!)

And the best side will win on the day.

Players seemed to adapt very quickly, almost as though the game had become simpler, less constrained and more logical - e.g. it just makes sense to have an off-side line at the tackle.

The skills required now to be successful will only be emphasised under the new laws - all the basics like coming onto the ball at pace, supporting the ball-carrier, making space by playing the ball out of the tackle, clean tackling, and communication will become more important.

Rugby will continue to have a place for folks of all shapes and sizes

Caveat: We are talking about just one game, between two attack-minded sides with good ball-players. Ayr-Currie would be an interesting counterpoint!

Peronally I can't wait to see these laws widely adopted.


This article was posted on 11-Jan-2007, 20:27 by Hugh Barrow.

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