Had a chuckle to myself a few weeks back when Elissade, whilst admitting his English wasn’t the best was still pretty clear about what he meant when he castigated Munster for keeping a hold of the ball with 15 minutes to go in the Heineken Cup Final and not letting it out from under their shirts. Munster went on to win the cup a second time whilst Toulouse, through Elissade were left to bitterly reflect that Munster had stopped them playing their high powered brand of attacking rugby.
Dashed nasty of Munster to stop Toulouse entertaining us all with scintillating attacking lines of play and Munster looking absolute fools. It looked like sour grapes then by Toulouse and smells of whine now. There is absolutely no mandate in world rugby which says that you have to allow an attack minded team a chance to play with the ball, much like wee boys in the park on a kick-a-bout.
Mind the IRB law makers would have it so that rugby abandons its traditional strengths and concentrates on basketball type play in order to satiate the games media mandarins ably led by chief cheerleader Jon O’Neill of the ARU. This is what for many of us who love the traditional game suspect as behind the ELV’s being introduced in the Southern Hemisphere.
Now I don’t disagree that the Heineken Cup Final wasn’t a spectacle if only because Munster had the ability that few teams, even at the top level have, of strangling the opposition. The laws of the game allow them to do that. So where the IRB seeks to modify the game in favour of running with the ball as opposed to set piece chess moves, they might just have been better of examining the existing laws and trying to tidy them up.
The pick and go has become an area of contention in my mind for example as Munster demonstrated so ably in the cup final. They simply held unto and protected the ball and prevented the opposition competing for it. How ironic that last Saturday the All Blacks ‘Munstered’ the Ireland team which had the Munster team as its very heart. The simple fact is, where teams can pick and go whilst effectively getting numbers of bodies round the ball, then the opposition can’t compete for it. This is exactly what Munster did a few weeks ago and the AB’s demonstrated on Saturday.
It is not an edifying spectacle when you see pick and go of this sort, as all momentum is sucked out of the game . Defenders must stand and wait whilst the attacking scrum half waves theatrically at his forwards to line up in various formations. It can be an eternity before the next pick and go which generates sideways crab like progress or millimetres forwards depending on the strength of defence. Cue more reorganisation of attacking forwards whilst defenders have time to reload their muskets and have a tea break.
There used to be a ‘use it or lose it’ rule but damned if I can remember whether it involved rucks or mauls such is the pace of changes in the laws. Where pick and go is concerned, the attacking team should be made to use the ball far quicker than the current eternity they’re allowed. Also teams should not be allowed to flood this area with bodies on the deck. Either force teams to use it or lose it or else bring back use of the studs to clear bodies out of the rucks. Not pretty maybe but at least a clear message would be sent out to the pick and go exponents, that the ball is for Christmas and not for life!
For those of you who don’t have SKY and thus haven’t seen the aforementioned matches, think back to when Leinster drew 6-6 with Ulster at Ravenhill in the pouring rain. Much as I admired Leinster that night it was also dire to see defenders unable to do anything other than line up and wait till the next drive appeared over the hill. They’re the rules of course but a little tweaking rather than introducing a whole raft of new ones would maybe solve the ‘entertainment’ bug that seems to have bitten the Southern Hemisphere rugby lawmakers.
The current half baked, some playing ELV’s, others not, is far from ideal and ironically despite the desire to speed the game up and ‘entertain’ there appears to be a malaise set in amongst the viewing public which for the Southern Hemisphere game may be terminal. The games are being played by and large in half empty stadias. Meanwhile the Northern Hemisphere game which is for the time being resisting ELV’s, sees its current format of laws gaining ever increasing spectators.
For how much longer one wonders? I certainly do not wish to see a high speed version where the ball is flung around with abandon and little sense that the full milieu of rugby’s traditional strengths of set piece and rapier thrust of back play is being fully tested.
Of course the World Cup and withdrawal of NZ stars prior to it in last years Super 14 tournament is being blamed for falling attendances there. Interestingly the ones doing the blaming are the very people pushing the new ELVs. If your pushing through law changes in the name of entertainment you are hardly going to blame falling attendances on those same changes.
The Heineken cup final may not have been pretty but demonstrated rugby’s contrast in styles which provokes the enduring interest in the game. Much like the battle between good and evil, the power of black against white. Which will dominate, who will triumph? That is what makes the game the multi layered tableau as we know it, not the mass uniform rush of uniformly sized athletes playing at uniform speed, programmed to chuck the ball about as if on ecstasy tablets.
Frankly the game and its laws are confusing enough without adding another layer of fundamentally structurally altering laws which will only serve to add to the confusion and ignorance of current laws. For example the straight feed to the scrum is simply ignored nowadays. So here we have an existing law that is not even applied or enforced. How many more will be bent, twisted and contorted and ultimately binned in all sense except as a line in the law book thus distorting the traditional game even further?
Interestingly in 1906 the Australian Rugby union featured a split because even then they were competing against Aussie rules and Rugby League. One faction of the ARU wanted the union to become more like the other sports it was competing with, whilst the other opted to remain true to the values of the original union game. Today one hundred years later. Plus ca change?