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England celebrate ‘ELV victory’


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English rugby union chiefs were in buoyant mood after leading what appeared to be a successful European challenge to the permanent implementation of the most drastic experimental law variations.

After a two-day International Rugby Board (IRB) conference in London, which featured some 60 of the game’s leading figures and statistics from over 800 matches in 15 different countries, it was recommended the ELV which allows a maul to be pulled down be thrown out from incorporation into the rulebook.

And the sanctions experiment, currently being trialled in the southern hemisphere, which sees most offences punished with a free-kick rather than a penalty, has been sent away for further review.

It is not expected to be up for serious discussion again before the 2011 World Cup.

The London meeting, which finished on Tuesday, did not take any binding decisions. Instead its conclusions were designed to guide the IRB’s rugby committee ahead of their April 27 meeting.

They will in turn present proposals for approval by the full IRB Council on May 13. A final decision is due on July 1 with a revised rulebook due to come into force from August 1. The ELVs have caused a split in world rugby union.

Their supporters, who come mostly from the southern hemisphere and in particular Australia, said they’d speed up the game and make it more entertaining.

However, critics, who are mostly based in Europe but included former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones, until recently in charge of English Premiership side Saracens, argued the rulebook did not require major surgery.

Others said the solution to problems such as the creation of space in which attacking rugby could flourish lay in stricter enforcement of the existing offside rule rather than in the creation of new laws.

Meanwhile the sanctions ELV was largely written off in the nothern hemisphere as a “cheats charter” which meant foul play went unpunished.

Officials at England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) were opposed to the maul and sanctions ELVs as well as the experiment with unrestricted numbers in the line-out, which the conference also said should be abandoned.

“We have worked closely with the other Six Nations unions to paint as accurate a picture as possible of the impact that the ELVs have had,” said Chris Cuthbertson, chairman of the RFU’s ELV task group.

“We presented that to the conference and we are delighted that they have taken our views on board.”

The ELV programme began at an IRB meeting in Auckland in January 2004, not long after England won the World Cup, which asked whether rugby union was becoming too technical and complicated.

Many within English rugby were instantly dubious about the whole project, seeing an Australia-inspired plot to compensate for the Wallabies’ then weaknesses in forward play by trying to turn rugby union into ‘basketball’.

There was also a view in Europe, where attendances for major club matches and Tests have held up well, that the rules did not need a rewrite simply because the game in Australia was competing for fans with Australian Rules and rugby league.

Although New Zealand were supportive, South Africa were far more equivocal in their enthusiasm for the ELVs.

Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O’Neill warned last year the northern hemisphere risked causing the creation of “two games” if they did not sign up to the ELVs.

But the IRB’s French chairman Bernard Lapasset said the guiding mood of the conference was to unite the sport after two seasons where different sets of ELVs had existed either side of the Equator.

“What was clear was that there was agreement on many aspects of the ELVs and a collective will to see a return to one set of laws to govern the game as soon as possible,” Lapasset explained.

Sapa-AFP Rugbyweek.com

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