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Experimental Law Variations led to more tries in Super 14

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Like them or loathe them, rugby’s Experimental Law Variations had a significant impact in their first season of application in Super 14.


Statistics from the just-completed season showed there were more tries, less lineouts, fewer penalties kicked and the ball was in play longer. There were roughly the same number of scrums, more mauls and many more free kicks.


The new rules appear to have reduced the contest for possession by allowing few breakdowns to run their course, but opened attacking possibilities from free kicks and scrums.


Former International Rugby Board chairman Syd Millar, who presided over the decision to trial the new laws in the Super 14, summarized their intention.


“Defenses are on top at the moment,” he said.


“We need to free the game up a bit, make it easier to play, easier to referee, easier to understand and we have to produce more options for the players.”


Statistics show some success in that regard. Across the board, 13 percent more tries have been scored in matches in which the new rules have been applied.

 

In the Super 14, 497 tries at an average of 5.2 per game were scored under the ELVs this season compared with 440 at an average of 4.7 under the old rules in 2007.

At the same time, there were 409 penalties kicked in the 2007 Super 14 season and 297 this year both because fewer penalties were attempted and kicking success rates were lower.


Whether the resulting game is better than games produced under the old rules is largely a matter of taste and interpretation. Views on the issue tend to differ along national lines.


Newly appointed Australia coach Robbie Deans is an outspoken supporter of the rules and would like to see them implemented at all levels of rugby.


The New Zealander welcomed the implementation of the ELVs, with two additional changes concerning the maul and lineout, in this year’s Tri-Nations competition.


“There’s a little bit of difference in so far as the ball can be in play a little bit longer and that teams that want to can choose to take the initiative if they want to and take quick free-kicks,” he said.


“The game has become less and less discernible from what was there before, which is good because there is scope for teams to be attacking and positive.”


Opinions on the rule changes seem to depend on whether they foster or inhibit the style of play teams used before they were introduced.


Deans’ Crusaders were already playing a high-tempo game of pace and support, retention and recycling of possession and therefore benefited from the changes.


South African teams, which generally play a more structured game and emphasize physical confrontation at the breakdown, are less impressed.


Springboks halfback Fourie Du Preez, whose Bulls team won the 2007 Super 14 but fared poorly this year under the new rules, is an outspoken critic.


“We probably had a little bit of a negative attitude towards them,” he said.


“We probably thought we’ve won the World Cup, the Super 14, why should we change the way we play.


“In putting the ELVs into effect they wanted to get more attacking rugby, but if you look at the amount of free kicks and penalties in a game and it’s slowing down the ruck situation. Rugby is a lot more negative than positive at the moment.”


South African Mark Lawrence, the first referee to control a Super 14 final under the new laws, believes the rule changes are “fantastic” for rugby.


“One certainly runs much more and (referees) have to think a lot harder,” he said.


“I know the experimental laws have resulted in many debates but I feel they’re good for the development of the game.”


Sapa-AP – Super14.com

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