Sunday, May 4th, 2008...7:41 am

ELVs – It’s McRugby, for cash. (Andy Jackson)

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Source : Why change, just when we`re loving it?

According to the bumf, the ELVs have been designed to “provide greater clarity in terms of the Laws of the Game for players, coaches, referees and spectators; allow players to determine the outcome of matches [and] not the subjectivity of match officials”.

It would be sportsmanlike to take offence at that appalling slight on their own referees, but don’t bother: referees seem to agree that it is all getting too much for them.“Players are fitter, stronger and quicker and therefore the referee’s decision-making time gets shorter and shorter,” says IRB referee manager Paddy O’Brien.“If I took my wife to some tennis I could explain the basics in five minutes, but I think with rugby union at the moment that’s not the case. Some of the laws are becoming unrefereeable.

“We want to make the game easier to play, coach and referee – and to watch.”So it’s back to you, humble fan. Apparently you are not enjoying your rugby any more, and it’s down to the fact that you are too thick to understand what is going on. If there are too many complicated laws for a referee to compute, what chance does a moron like you have? According to the IRB: “Most people associated with the game, including spectators, would agree that the sport is in a very healthy state but that there are some fundamental problems creeping in.

The Game is quicker, players are stronger and faster, contact is more aggressive and physical, and the advancement of skill levels is putting strain on the Laws themselves in terms of the contest for possession.

Have we missed something? Are the fans that pile through European turnstiles not really enjoying themselves? Perhaps they are too dumb to know. Are match officials really struggling to lay down these fiendishly complicated laws? Perhaps Tony Spreadbury’s cackling laughter is a cry for help; perhaps Alain Rolland’s cool countenance is just an icy veneer masking a deep and dark mental breakdown. No. No on all counts. We fans may not be geniuses but we are not idiots, and it is deeply insulting to our collective intelligence that the IRB has not come out and admitted what these changes are really about.Perhaps some simple honesty would then disband the north-south conspiracy theorists who perceive the ELVs as little more than a cunning ruse to disempower Europe’s traditional strengths in set-piece play.Inevitably and depressingly, the real motor behind the ELVs is, of course, money.You won’t find the following quote on the IRB website, but one of its own number – chairman of its ‘Laws Project Group’ no less – admitted as much back at the start – sorry, ‘Genesis’ – of the trials.“We’d be very silly if we didn’t realise that, especially since the game went professional, there is a commercial element to the ELVs,” said Bill Nolan back in 2006.Whilst broadcasters fight for the right to carry Europe’s main rugby tournaments, the Super 14 and Tri-Nations are having difficultly selling their wares to the paying public. [me: very much so in Australia]

Quite why this should be is – on the face of it – a mystery. The southern hemisphere has carried off five World Cups in six attempts and any honest European would concede that rugby talent blossoms more abundantly below the equator.The belief is that the ELVs will inspire a try-laden brand of rugby that will keep the broadcasters happy, put bums on seats and money in the bank.

But has the Super 14 not been littered with tries and “basketball scores” since its inception? And has the tournament’s popularity not been in decline for the last few free-flowing years?
If we were to take those two questions at their rhetorical value, what are the chanced of improving matters by simply raising the tempo even higher?Well, not so good … unless, of course, the IRB is planning to bring in a whole new viewership.

Hence why you and I will not be consulted on Thursday. The IRB can already count on our dollar, we are old news – they want new blood. Since the game went professional, the men who claim to govern our game have done nothing but salivate over soccer. What fun to run such a simple game, one that appeals to the masses – one that generates so much cash! If the IRB were able to simplify rugby down to a handful of laws it would have a product that could rival the round ball, and how the turnstiles would spin with new fans who care more for entertainment than they do for strategy.This infantilisation of our grand old sport is already in full swing: the ELVs are barely out of their infancy and already they have transformed the Super 14 into a miasma devoid of wit or intelligence.It’s McRugby and it’s just perfect for the mass market.All the teams share the same gameplan: run, bash, run, bash, run, bash, run, bash.The claim that the law changes will make Rugby Union look like Rugby League does the 13-man code a grave insult: they vary their tactics every sixth tackle – no such luck with the automatons of the Super 14. Run, bash, run, bash, run, bash, run, bash…That’s not to say there is anything wrong with attacking with ball in hand – on the contrary, that’s the very ethos of the game. But too much of good thing makes us all fat and lazy. Creating legislation for more gaps in defence is not going to make a better spectacle, it will just devalue the art of line-breaking. [me: I think ELV promote the field wide defensive trench, so less line breaks in a tough game]

The IRB would do well to contact FIFA and ask their idols about how to throw a proper party. Organisers of World Cup 1994 beseeched soccer’s governors to widen the goals. Why? Well, to pep things up a little. FIFA, not an organisation regarded for its wisdom, flatly rejected the plea, pointing out to the American hosts that the value of a diamond stems directly from its perceived rarity.If FIFA can grasp simple economic principles, why not the IRB? Flooding a market is the best way to kill it.

Making tries easier to score by handing the impetus to the attacking team will not make for a better show. The glory of rugby is in watching a team thinking its way out of tight spot. The decisions that lead to a try are far more interesting than the sight of a man flopping over the line. The journey is often better than the arrival – foreplay can be fun! [me: Yes, yes!]

The IRB’s ultimate goal – “to reduce the number and complexity of the Laws by reducing the ‘cannots’ in law and promoting the ‘cans’ to create a positive philosophy” – runs contrary to sporting philosophy itself.All good contests – from noughts-and-crosses through to chess and incorporating every single sporting endeavour – rely on a delicate balance between defence and attack. Why not rugby any more?

If “reducing the cannots and promoting the cans” really makes for good sport, perhaps the IRB should lend its expertise to other fields. So let’s widen those goals, add a fourth stump to cricket, hand weapons to boxers and remove those stupid trees from golf’s fairways. How dare they stand in the way of a simple shot at the green?

SIMPLE does not equate to INTERESTING – quite the opposite, in fact. How the IRB cannot see this is verging on the criminal. The game we love – with all its wonderful nuances and delicate variations – is under threat from the very body charged with its protection. The ELVs might not get the green light this time round, but the IRB has spent too many of its precious pennies to let this drop. There is nothing ‘experimental’ about the new laws: sooner or later we will be forced to accept the DUMBING DOWN of our game.Brace yourselves – this is the END OF RUGBY as we know it.Read this article with the following posts: Warning – ARU CEO John ONeill, Foundation Posts, ELVs – Confirmation, they are more commercial (in Aus).