Friday, May 9th, 2008...3:40 pm

ELVs – ‘The Field Wide Trench Defence’ or ‘FWTD’

Jump to Comments


 Defined: The players in the defending team pan out in a horizontal line from touch line to touch line. I would describe this play as a WWI style trench defence, moving the game into stalemate. The generals of WWI invented the tank to overcome this strategy, what is rugby unions ‘tank’ to be?  

Let’s review a sample of rugby opinion on the subject:

Source: New laws making game like league  – Laurie Mains

,,”If the aim of these laws was to speed the game up then they’ve succeeded. But the real concern I have is rugby is looking more like league every year.

People who love the game don’t want that to happen.

We want to see rugby maintain its identity and part of that is having struggles up front in the forwards and creating space for backs to run with the ball.

The defensive lines in rugby are now akin to league and I feel the game is getting choked.

If we went back five years and reinstated the laws to allow rucking, I believe we’d have a solution.

With the greater skill and fitness we see in players today we’d have a fantastic game“…

Source: (Ian) McGeechan slays IRB’s ELVs  

…”Coaching guru Ian McGeechan fears the ELVs have the potential to ruin rugby’s traditional qualities.

The former Scotland national coach, the leading contender to take the British Lions to South Africa next year, said he had little time for the IRB’s argument that the ELVs would make rugby easier to understand and referee.

My concern is that we will end up playing one type of game, that the variety and depth of options which the game has always had will be taken away,” McGeechan told the Daily Mail.

“You end up with an average of something like 58 free-kicks under the ELVs and a game which basically becomes like play-the-ball in rugby league.”…

“My biggest worry is that it will change rugby union fundamentally.

Source: ELVs are boring ‘because of refs’ – Peter Thorburn

..”Thorburn said the implementation of the experimental law variations in Super 14 had been flawed, but put that down largely to the referees and, more particularly, coaches.”…

 ..”I hear people say, ‘it’s getting like league, it’s getting like league’. Why is it getting like league? Because of that lack of imagination.”..

…”[I] would go even further and implement an idea first bandied about by French legend Pierre Villepreux, which is to replicate the five-metre rule now used at scrums under the ELVs at rucks.”…

 .”Despite the fundamental flaws in implementing the ELVs, Thorburn insisted that to do away with them would be a grave mistake for a sport already struggling to maintain the public’s imagination.”…

Source: Free kicks blight ELVs – Warren Gatland

 ..”the only Northern Hemisphere aversion to the law variations trialled in the Super 14 will centre the free kicks at the breakdown.

That has been the big problem from what I’ve seen and it seems the free kick is a little bit of a cop out.

“Players will ride the line and that is no different from last year,” said Gatland. “Since rucking was removed, it has become much tougher for referees because where once players would know what was coming if they were on the wrong side of the ruck, now they make the tackle, hold on then make a slight effort to roll away.”

But in the Super 14, he had noticed an escalating number of free kicks and teams prepared to concede them if it meant they could reset their defensive lines or even pinch a turnover.

“And if you’ve done your defensive work, then you can cope with conceding a free kick,” he said.”..

The ELV Committee is well aware of the frustration sourced from the FWTD. The committee solution is to allow ‘hands in the ruck’. This play was previously deemed illegal in rugby union, and in the most distant past the ‘slow ruck problem’ was solved by traditional rucking. (See post on Rucking).

Source: ELVs come out to play on global scale – Rod MacQueen

..”One of the concerns of the game today is the lack of back-line moves and the introduction of one-off runners going to ground. Analysis over this time revealed interesting causes and effects.

From current Test statistics, teams taking the ball into the breakdown retain it 95 per cent of the time, leading opposition coaches to instruct their players not to commit, but spread across the field in defence,” Macqueen said.

The hands in the ruck recommendation, allowing players to handle the ball on the ground at the breakdown, formerly illegal, was greeted gleefully in the ARC by hard men such as Queensland’s veteran international breakaway, David Croft. 

Engagements for ball possession became ferocious in the tackle area while providing the referee with less decision-making, a swifter service to the backs and fewer stoppages. Hands in the ruck in the ARC and in a Scottish competition led to such aggressive play for possession at the breakdown that the ball was retained only 85 per cent of the time.

The interesting thing from these competitions was that less retention gave the attacking team greater advantage,” Macqueen said. “If they were skilful enough to get the ball out quickly, they invariably had more room to move, and the opposition were committing more players in defence. Consequently, more opportunity for tries’’..

After viewing a recent Super 14 Rugby game ‘Hurricanes vs Western Force’ (9-05-2008) the number of breakdowns reported was 190. I believe most breakdowns are rucks. This is a dramatic increase compared to a non ELV games.

The committee correctly confirms that a fast ruck gives less opportunity for the FWTD to form, therefore allowing more space out wide for attack.

But what type of attack is the question.

When the attacking team is going through a series 5 to 10 phases (ruck to ruck), after each ruck the back line is formed up with the random players not involved in the last ruck. This means we see tight and loose forwards standing within the back line. There is nothing wrong with that once in a while, but after every ruck, there is definitely something wrong. Why, the art of the back line attack is difficult enough for seasoned and well trained backs: running the correct lines, straightening the attack up to counter sliding defense, passing to players in space, looping, and dummy runners, so how can forwards be considered competent enough to assist in the back line attack (All Black Michael Jones excluded), short answer he can’t be! Also the rugby field is only so wide and having more than 7 players in a backline is detrimental to effective attack.

To swing away for a quick note…

NOTE: I would like to go on record stating that the super rugby 2008 ELVs are the source for the continued destruction of classical backline tactics. This is resulting from the lack of opportunity (or space out wide) for the backs to exercise there skill in a pure backs versus backs contest. It has been said that so far in Super 14 Rugby 2008 there have been 50 more tries scored (upto round 11, vs 2007 yr) and this must be a good representation of the 13 ELVs in use. I wonder how many tries were sourced from pure backs versus backs contest, compared to tries where backs and forwards are part of the mix? Maybe the statistics reveal the traditional 2/5 and center skills are no longer required and a more generic loose forward would be better suited in these roles. Is this further evidence of how traditional positional play is being diluted for more action (tries), no matter the quality of the action. The ELVs flaws are sourced from the scope issued to create them, see post: ELVs – The ELV Committee flawed, scope flawed., Chess vs Checkers 

Back to the main topic… 

The eye saw of the clumsy post ruck back line attack cannot be solely blamed on the ELVs, coaches and captains have also shown a lack imagination in this area.

Is it a case of wait and see, give coaches more time,  I think not. The FWTD places the game into a stalemate where defense has the advantage, and the new ELVs have not gone far enough to overcome this problem. It has been confirmed that an ELV game has the ‘ball in play’ longer: I would submit that this increase is ‘ball in play’ resulting from phase play (ruck to ruck), I would also submit that this increase is of low quality due to the FWTD and the clumsy back line attack formations trying penetrate it.

Therefore ‘traditional rucking’ or ‘hands in the ruck’ will not solely swing the advantage back to the attacking side faced with FWTD. The attacking team must be given the opportunity to realign forwards being forwards and backs being backs to allow specialists to return there traditional roles while maintaining possession during (or at the end of) continual phase play. This hole in the new ELVs is fundamental. (Please read Chess vs Checkers post,)

Consider this, what can the attacking side do after they have just gone through 6 phases will little return against the FWTD, their options are:

  • 1)      Kick and hope, possession is most likely lost.
  • 2)      Maul, but it is easily defeated by a single player pulling it down (new ELV).
  • 3)      Run and bash, try to breach the tackle, on failure phase 7 starts.
  • 4)      Back line move, difficult as back line is usually mixed with forwards and backs resulting in poor results (and ugly rugby).

I submit the ELVs should swing the bias from the defensive side to the attacking side by these further rules changes (One of these could be rugby unions WW1 tank):

  • 1)      Promote the maul: The defending players not in the mall must be back 5 meters (excludes designated half back). Allow the maul to be pulled down within 10 meters of the try line, only. (Note: I would only make this compromise after brown paper bags have changed hands). This would make any forward momentum of the maul too expensive for the defending team, forcing the defending forwards to join the maul to force the ‘use it or lose it rule’.
  • 2)      Introduce the 50/22 rule. An attacking kick made from within the attacking teams half way line that bounces out on the defending team 22 touch line. The bounce need not be in the 22, but the touch line breach must be. Not available from the kick off. The attacking team is awarded the full lineout put in. (Note: I would not allow short lineouts at all). This would require the defending team to ensure they have both the touch lines protected, thus keeping more players out of the FWTD.

(Note: The above are additions to the ELVs, I would keep all current Super 14 Rugby ELVs, and also add ‘Rucking’ [preferred] or ‘hands in the ruck’.)  Updated 04/12/2009

Both the above ideas return forwards and backs to there traditional roles while (giving the attacking team a new starting point for a traditional back line attack) maintaining possession after a period of phase play that resulted in the mixing of player roles. This has got to be good for rugby union.

Rugby union traverses from structured play to non structured play (lineout to ruck) while still holding possession, there should be a laws of how this can be reversed in special situations (ruck to lineout) while engaged in continuation play. I refer you to the 50/22 rule above.  

If you have any ideas on this subject then email me via my ‘Contact Me’ page.

I would also NOT allow any short line outs at all in the game, I have written about this in this post: ELVs (Experiment Law Variation) – Tactic Review.

The End.


 The Hurricanes vs Western Force (9-5-2008) was played in the worst wet weather conditions so far this year, yet traditional wet weather rugby tactics were not employed and it was replaced with continual ‘run and bash’ with the FWTD being the most prevalent tactic on display. It seams dry and wet weather rugby tactics are the same these days! I do congratulate both sides for their ball handling skills, but I give both sides a brick bat for their lack of ability to create space for attack. The maul was not used once. (Refer my post: ELVs – Endangered Species: Maul and Lineout )