I know, I know, I'm not sure what's happening either. No sooner do I choke on my rich tea biscuit while heaping praise on the RFU than I feel I also have to give further credit where credit is due and, this time, it's the IRB that have done something that makes perfect sense. Ye Gods, if this carries on I'll soon believe that black is white and that Charlie Hodgson is an international fly half!
The reason for my euphoric yet confused state of mind is that the IRB yesterday effectively instructed referees that, for all international matches from 1st June, they should penalise players who go to ground and effectively "seal off" the ball to prevent the opposition from contesting possession. They are also being asked to make sure that the law requiring players not to handle the ball in the ruck is applied to both the attacking and defending teams.
Hallelujah! This is something I've been saying for some time - that if referees applied the current laws correctly then the "pick and go" tactic so roundly condemned in some quarters becomes far more difficult for a team to execute as players will be prevented from routinely going to ground to protect possession. Calls for a change in the laws to effectively outlaw the tactic have always been naive and misplaced and hopefully correct and strict application of the laws will make all the difference. I should point out that it is not the referees' fault that the laws have not been correctly applied as they are constantly put under pressure to let the game flow in order to produce a better "spectacle" - perhaps people will now realise that what's required is stricter application of the laws in order to enable a proper contest and, as a result, a better game to watch.
That the IRB has also instructed referees to ensure that scrum halves feed the ball into the centre of the scrum is proof that the world is, in fact, flat. I'm not sure how long this law has been ignored but I can honestly say I don't recall a crooked feed being penalised in the last 10 years or so. Proper application of this law will ensure that the scrum remains a genuine contest. A certain Brian Moore will be grinning a toothless grin from ear to ear at this news no doubt, although I do wonder what he'll find to moan about now (I'm sure he'll find something).
In many ways it's unbelievable that on the one hand the IRB can come up with such common sense solutions to perceived failings in the game by insisting that current laws are applied correctly, while on the other hand they can endorse a collection of crass ideas like the ELVs. If there has been a genuine outbreak of common sense in the corridors of powers then why not agree that the 5 metre offside line at the scrum is a good idea and the law discouraging passing back into the 22 is worth a go but that the rest (with the exception of the minor technical adjustments) might as well just be ditched?
What is also a little concerning is the fact that these new IRB protocols only appear to apply to international rugby and will not necessarily filter down to referees at domestic and grassroots level. Mind you, come August the poor referees will all be far too busy trying to work out how on earth to make sense of the ELVs they are being obliged to apply against their better judgement - so to ask them also to apply existing laws rigorously might just be a request too far.