Chaos the constant in modern game

Teams that dominate the set-pieces are no longer rewarded, every referee calls the breakdown differently while nobody knows what to expect. Welcome to the chaos of the Super 14.

After three weeks and 21 games the only constant has been the chaos. Be it at the breakdown or in each referee’s individual interpretation of the indefinable hybrid ELVs, the rugby’s been difficult to enjoy. The skill-level’s been poor, the execution lacking, and the public interest on the wane. One has only to look at the sparsely-populated Australasian stadiums to confirm the fans are no longer into this chaotic aberration.

The rugby’s been difficult to enjoy because it’s no longer built on the premise of domination and reward. Teams that capitalise on turnover ball now win rugby matches -an old exception that’s now become the norm. The vultures now flourish while the bigger beasts find themselves in terrain unsuited to their physical superiority. How did the rugby landscape degenerate to such a degree?

The introduction of the hybrid ELVs was marketed as a boost to the game as a free-flowing spectacle and fans were told the new laws would make for a faster and more exciting game. After 21 matches in 2009, I’d be lying if I said I’ve been entertained.

Honestly, I’ve been more amused by Jan parading in his orange Crocs while Robbie Wessels and his harem mince about in the background. For those not resident in South Africa, it’s a television advert detailing the activities of a Springbok fan who’s gained admiration from the top players because of his loyal support.

If Jan really existed, I’m sure he’d be equally disappointed with the current standard. If Jan was a paying customer, he’d demand his money back. Rugby’s no longer the game played by our forefathers, and although the sport has evolved over the past two centuries, it’s only in the last two years where the changes have threatened to rob the sport of its very identity.

The Super 14 has begun to lose structure, and there’s been no answer to why the hybrid ELVs were retained while the rest of the world continued to subscribe to a more widely accepted rule-set. The Super 14 sees a high number of breakdown turnovers as players know they can compete for the ball without fear of conceding a penalty and thus the three points. The high number of free kicks also encourage attacking teams to play quickly or kick for territory, but in most instances, this requires a collective understanding and accuracy that is unapparent in even the tournament’s most skilled teams.

The application of the breakdown laws is also inexcusably subjective. Schalk Burger told a media gathering last week you have to plan for the referee who will be blowing a particular match. You will also have to adapt to how he calls the game on matchday.

Since there is no hard and fast rule on penalisation at the breakdown and how many free-kicks constitute a yellow-card offence, it really does depend on the individual’s call. Depending on the referee, a team can either get away with murder or be mercilessly crucified for minor sins.

The definitive question is why this should be so. The breakdown is the most important area of the game and every team invests plenty of time working at this facet ahead of every match. They have to adjust their preparations for an official, and then they have to adjust on the day if that referee decides to be stricter than usual. What nonsense.

It’s clear the hybrid laws haven’t bettered the standard of play. There are more attacking opportunities what with the increase in the speed of proceedings, but ultimately the result is more miss than hit as players’ skill-levels struggle to adapt.

You expect to see mistakes in every match, but the current error-rate across the board suggests something is not right. Big changes are expected to the Super Rugby structure by 2010, but Sanzar need to move past this unhealthy infatuation with the hybrid ELVs. It doesn’t help the Test players and evidently it’s no longer pulling the crowds who obviously favour a more traditional contest over the current run-amok.

By Jon Cardinelli