New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew has trumpeted the IRB's decision to green light the worldwide one-year trial for the Experimental Law Variations as a "small victory" in the face of extreme opposition in the north.
The IRB's executive council in Dublin has approved the year-long trial for 13 of the proposed 23 ELVs, which Tew conceded had to be regarded as a good result for the game given the weight of the opposition that appeared to have gathered around the northern hemisphere.
"I think we've had I guess you'd call it a small victory if you like in that we've managed to turn some opinions around to get to this point," Tew said to New Zealand media in a conference call from Dublin.
"It's not as far as we'd like to go but it's a good start."
In essence the IRB ELVs, which will come into force at all levels of the game from August 1, do not go quite as far as the Sanzar variations which are in use during this year's Super 14 competition.
The IRB ELVs do not include the regulations relating to sanctions (where most offences are punishable by free-kicks rather than penalties, and failure to clear ball at ruck or maul also results in a free-kick to the team not taking the ball in) nor do they cover the new offside line at the tackle ball area.
But they do include one aspect of the original IRB law proposals that did not pass muster from Sanzar officials, namely the ability for a defending team to bring down a maul without reprisal.
However, the IRB has also decided to introduce a larger raft of the ELVs, including the free-kick regulations which have clearly perturbed the north, into a "selected elite northern hemisphere competition in the 2008-09 season". Tew confirmed this was expected to be the Anglo-Welsh tournament.
Tew also pointed out that "we have the ability in Sanzar which we're likely to take up to continue to apply the sanctions and two or three related ELVs around that issue".
The NZRU chief executive conceded there may be some confusion in coming months as the new laws came into fashion in so many different guises (he confirmed that the Air NZ Cup would almost certainly include the sanctions regulations as well as the IRB-approved ELVS) but that it would all be worthwhile in the long run.
"There's quite a difficult job to be done here bringing everybody on to the same page around changing law," added Tew. "What we probably don't appreciate in the south, is that largely up here and certainly in the media they think their game is 100 percent, going from strength to strength and doesn't need any change.
"We have a different view and we've seen the results of these ELVs, we've seen the statistics and the analysis. What we're now pushing very hard for is for them to actually read the facts and have a crack at it themselves so they can see how they will work.
"There may be a bit of confusion but we think that pain is worthwhile because in the end the result is worth getting at."
In terms of the upcoming Tri-Nations competition and what rules that would be played under, Tew said a final decision would be made on that probably next week.
"I want to have a chance of talking to our coaching staff about that," he said. "We've had a brief conversation with Australia and South Africa and they've got a strong view we should use the ELVs in the Tri-Nations. We'll take that into account when we sit down and think about it next week."
Asked whether, given the differing viewpoints of north and south, particularly over the sanctions regulations, there was still conflict awaiting in 12 months' time, Tew put on his optimist's cap.
"The good thing is in 12 months' time we'll have a whole lot more statistics, a whole lot more analysis, and have a whole lot more people sitting round the table who have actually trialled it, watched some games live and seen how it works.
"At the end if we've still got differences of opinion that won't be any different than it's ever been around laws in the past."
Tew also made it abundantly clear that the northern reluctance over the ELVs had been a source of frustration.
"They haven't trialled these ELVs, they haven't seen them face-to-face. There's been a bit of concern that it's a southern hemisphere conspiracy, and there has been a wee bit of 'you don't want scrums down there, you're trying to change the rules'. Of course the facts don't reflect that at all, and scrums are probably more important going forward."
All told, considering the vociferous nature of some of the anti-ELV opinions being expressed in the northern media, Tew reckoned it was somewhat of a red-letter day for rugby.
"All in all we think given where the northern hemisphere were leading up to this meting, that’s actually quite an amount of progress," he said of the new laws that will eventually face another vote some time after August 2009.
But Tew wasn't quite yet redy to pronounce the old laws as dead and buried.
"I wouldn't want to predict that. Certainly I wouldn't want to put any pressure on. Let them trial them and we'll see how they evaluate at the end that trial."
Meanwhile, the NZRU could also be about to come up with a key piece of work around the problematic breakdown area which continues to be an issue even under the new laws.
Added Tew: "We've made a commitment to doing a bit more work ourselves and we've got a couple of thtoughs we might share in a week or two when we've had a chance to go down that path with some detail."
ELVs to be trialled worldwide
- Assistant Referees can assist referees in any manner required when appointed by a match organiser
Posts and flags around the field
- The corner posts are no longer considered to be in touch in-goal except when a ball is grounded against the post
Lineout and throw
- If a team puts the ball back into their own 22 and the ball is subsequently kicked directly into touch there is no gain of ground
- A quick throw may be thrown in straight or towards the throwing team's own goal line
- There is no restriction on the number of players who can participate in the lineout from either side (minimum of two)
- The receiver in a lineout must stand 2 metres back from the lineout
- The player who is in opposition to the player throwing in the ball may stand in the area between the 5 metre line and touch line but must be 2 metres away from the lineout
- Lineout players may pre-grip a jumper before the ball is thrown in
- The lifting of lineout jumpers is permitted
- Players are able to defend a maul by pulling it down
- Remove reference in Law to heads and shoulders not to be lower than hips
- Introduction of an offside line five metres behind the hindmost feet of the scrum
- Scrum half offside lines (must be in close proximity to the scrum as present Law or must retreat five metres)
ELVs to be trialled in an elite northern hemisphere competition
- For all offences other than offside, not entering through the gate, and Law 10 - Foul Play, the sanction is a Free Kick
Tackle and ruck
- If the ball is unplayable at the breakdown, the side that did not take the ball into contact will receive a Free Kick
- If a maul becomes unplayable, the team not in possession at the start of the maul receives a Free Kick
ELVs to be referred back to LPG for further analysis and possible experimentation
Lineout and throw
- Incorrect throw (not straight) the sanction is a Free Kick
Tackle and ruck
- Offside line occurs immediately at the tackle
- Players who are on their feet can play the ball with their hands
- There are two Penalty Kicks awarded at the tackle and ruck - offside and foul play
- Reference to unfair play added to Law 15 (tackle: ball carrier brought to ground)
- Players are only put onside after a tackle when they retreat past the tackle or the ball has moved five metres away from the tackle
Kickoff and restart kicks
- Incorrect kick-offs and restart kicks result in a Free Kick for the opposition
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