When the International Rugby Board meet on Thursday to consider the Experimental Law Variations that are being tried in the southern hemisphere, they'd be wise to leave well alone.
When the ELVs were first suggested, after the World Cup, I was interested in the promise they carried of brighter, more open rugby. But having seen them in action in Super 14 games, I am convinced they don't work and I'm not surprised that most northern unions are against them.
A few of the proposals may be worth persevering with, but the main thrust of the suggestions could change the game for the worse. The World Cup left us a bit flat for various reasons, mainly the failure of New Zealand to perform, but since then, whether it's been the Six Nations, the Heineken Cup or the domestic competitions, our rugby looks in good shape. We have seen exciting matches and viewing figures are up, as are attendances. Why tamper with something that is working well?
Southern-hemisphere nations may be supporting the changes but they're not singing from the same hymn sheet. I think they are bored of playing each other and are looking for ways to spice up the game. Australia, in particular, would love to devalue the scrum, because they are crap at it.
Super 14 rugby is supposedly more thrilling to watch but, to be blunt, I don't care for it. Our game has structure and it has variety, and it would be a big risk to change it for the sake of it.
The proposal not to allow the ball to be passed back into the 22 for a full kick to touch is intended to promote counter-attacking, but due to professional caution teams are more likely to take the safe option of playing kicking tennis.
The new line-out rules would encourage quicker play and the five yards behind the scrum law is worth studying further, but the suggestions regarding the tackle area seem to make it even more complicated. There must be better ways of getting quicker ball from rucks and mauls than tinkering with laws.
We should give referees more power to crack down on wrongdoers. You hear them repeatedly shouting: "Hands off." Once is enough, and if the hands aren't immediately removed then the yellow card must be flashed. If referees yellow-carded every infringement, the players would soon get the message. It might mean packed sin-bins for a while but the result would be a more rapid improvement of play around the tackle area than any law change would bring.
The proposed laws were first put into action in games played by students in South Africa and they looked promising. But under the pressures of top-level rugby you could see the pros working out how to turn the laws to their own benefit.
That is only to be expected, but I trust the IRB will take note. It is right for them to be looking to experiment with new laws but they must be brave enough to admit when they don't work.Reuse content