Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Grassroots rugby and the ELVs

(photo courtesy of Big Dai)

For those already thoroughly bored with me banging on about the ELVs I suggest you stop reading this blog right now and do something more productive with your time, because I’m afraid that I feel another rant coming on…

The ELVs are very much in the news at the moment as the Super 14 tries to make sense of a number of them, with opinion split – mostly on hemispherical lines it must be said – as to whether the new laws improve the game as a spectacle or not.

As you may have gathered, I am very much of the opinion that, apart from one or two of the new laws, the ELVs do nothing to improve the game for the spectator unless that spectator happens to be a soap-opera-watching couch potato with no knowledge of rugby whatsoever. However, even if I were to accept that the game is better to watch under the ELVs (which I don’t), what would still worry me is the potentially disastrous effect that these proposed new laws will have on grassroots rugby.

It’s all very well for the various experts to claim that the ball being in play for longer will lead to a more attractive proposition for spectators (although of course it doesn’t necessarily follow that more = better or that quantity = quality). But consider the impact that the ball being in play more will have on the poor grassroots player.

Personally I find that I do quite enough running around in a game of rugby thank you very much and the last thing I need is an extra 5 minutes worth of action – the sight of the ball being hoofed off the park is one of the most welcome sights in the game as far as I’m concerned. Seriously though, the game of rugby already involves a huge amount of physical exertion without having to add to the burden. Fewer breaks in the game will lead to more exhaustion and, inevitably, more injuries. And more injuries will require teams at all levels to have bigger matchday squads which, in many cases, is simply not feasible, leading to clubs being able to field fewer teams and with players becoming disenchanted with having to sit on the bench for the 2nds rather than run out for the 3rds.

Likewise the preponderance of free kicks that will be awarded will radically alter the nature of the game at grassroots level. The reduction in penalties being kicked to touch (with the breather that such a kick offers to knackered forwards) will not only add to player exhaustion but will also render the need for tall lineout specialist redundant as (when added to the disincentive to kick to touch from the 22) the number of lineouts in a game is drastically reduced. While this might not be a bad thing for my Vets team whose lineout is an acknowledged shambles, this fundamental change in the nature of the game goes against the creed that rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes.

So, with all the tall skinny blokes gone, what will happen to the short squat blokes in the front row? It’s claimed that, with the new 5 metre offside line, the scrummage will be more important than ever. This might be true in theory but consider this – if, as France did against England last Saturday, a weaker front row is savvy enough not to engage properly, not to bind properly, not to scrum straight etc etc, and if the only sanction is a free kick, then it won’t be too long before the scrum starts to lose its appeal and the ‘tap and go’ will become the norm. Props will start to become redundant. No wonder the Aussies are so enthusiastic about these laws.

What we’ll end up with, I fear, is some kind of homogenised, generic form of rugby where all the players are required to be more or less the same size and shape, where the set-piece is largely redundant and players are strung out across the field in 2 lines, where incredible fitness and stamina is required, where injuries are far more frequent , (even more so if the law allowing the maul to be collapsed is eventually brought in), where huge matchday squads are required, where exhaustion will lead to more mistakes, more offences, more free kicks, more tap and go…

Ultimately I suspect we’re looking at a hybrid of sevens and rugby league – a game that not only would I not enjoy watching but also a game that neither I nor the vast majority of players who turn out at their local rugby clubs week-in, week out, would enjoy playing. And, when that happens, when the grassroots begins to fall out of love with the game, rugby will be in dire straits indeed.


Matt @ Green and Gold Rugby said...

Hey TF,

Thought I'd spray a few words about the ELVs as they seem to be getting you so frothed up.

I'm not going to defend the ELVs as much as throw another angle on them. For a defence you can read this.

I share your big fear that they could devalue forward play too much, but so far in the S14 we've seen more scrums (from free kicks) and plenty of rolling mauls (a good way to re-structure the match).

So if you think about the next time Aus plays England, your scrum will still be able to monster ours, even more often than before. The difference is that instead of that alone then winning the game through penalty kicks, you'll need to take advantage of the new attacking laws (5m scrum, new offside line) and actually do something with the ball.

Should we 'cynically ' keep disintegrating the scrum (has worked so well for us so far....) then free kicks can be converted to penalties and props can still be sent off (like fat dunning before).

So, having a strong scrum will still give you a huge advantage, and I can't see how we'll be able to win much without one, but for the spectator they'll get to see more than Jonny's place kicking practice.

This doesn't mean that I think as yet the ELVs are a proven winner. Attacking momentum continues to get shattered at about the 4th/5th phase, resulting in the 'scrappiness' we've been seeing. I think this could be because

1 - The refs are all over the place at the breakdowns, many being too trigger finger on the free kick, and forgetting that cynical play is still a full pealty.

2 - Teams are still figuring out what the hell to do with the new laws

3 - It's also early in the season, the skill levels aren't there yet

Having said all that the Blues and Crusaders are absolutely romping it in, so maybe it's just about being good.

As for the fatties at the grass roots - as mentioned above there'll potentially be even more of a role for them (us) but to do well they'll need to be fit. But that's the same now isn't it?

David said...

Nice to see my photos being used. Whilst you are free to us it, I do ask for attribution.
some think like, "Photo form Bigdai100's Flickr stream".

Total Flanker said...

Apologies David - I couldn't remember where I found the photo. Credit now added...cheers.