Running rugby impresses northerners

Wikus van Heerden says Europeans are in favour of the new law interpretations applied in the Super 14.

With the new scrum and breakdown interpretations, there were mixed emotions on the eve of this year’s Super 14. Many pundits felt there were too many law changes made each season and teams would find it difficult to adapt, while others believed after time it would benefit the game by balancing attack and defence.

The 72-65 scoreline in the Chiefs’ second round victory over the Lions elicited mass criticism. Some argued the law interpretations had made it near impossible for defending sides to contest possession.

However, after four rounds, teams are beginning to adapt, on attack and defence, under the new application of the laws. Another positive is that experts, such as Saru manager of referees André Watson and match official Jonathan Kaplan, believe the results will get better as the campaign progresses.

Van Heerden, who’s currently playing in his third and last season for English club Saracens, said the general feeling in Europe is positive.

‘The Super 14 has been a major showcase for the new law interpretations and the guys in the northern hemisphere are speaking positively about it,’ Van Heerden told keo.co.za.

‘It was obvious that it would take some time for the teams to adapt to the changes in interpretation, so it would be a process before the benefits could be seen. But now attacking rugby has flourished. In the past, defending teams were favoured too much, but as proven in the Super 14, things are balancing out.’

After four rounds in the competition, 1442 points and 145 tries have been scored. That’s an average of 26.7 points and 2.6 tries scored per team in a match. Van Heerden said these are the kind of results the Europeans want.

‘The northerners are saying, ”If the laws interpretations can allow them to play attacking rugby, why can’t we?” With the 2011 World Cup coming, there’s going to be clash because there’s a difference in the interpretations here in the north. Referees are stricter at the breakdowns and scrums in the Super 14.

‘Considering the positives seen so far in the Super 14 and the fact that the Europeans want to play under the new law interpretations, I believe it could be implemented globally in the near future. Even though the weather is sometimes difficult up here, the northern hemisphere can still adapt.’

Meanwhile, Van Heerden has agreed to a three-year deal with the Lions and will join them as soon as the current European season ends. Saracens are currently third on the log and are still in the English Premiership title race with six fixtures remaining. They are also in the LV Cup play-offs.

Van Heerden said he is excited to return to Johannesburg.

‘I’ve been watching all the Super 14 coverage of the Lions that I can. Although they haven’t won a game yet, there are massive improvements shown each week,’ he said. ‘They have definitely proved they can score and the defence is picking up each week.

‘You must remember it’s going to be a process for the Lions to develop but [head coach] Dick Muir is doing an amazing job. Players such as Doppies la Grange and Todd Clever have impressed, while everybody’s talking about the new wing Wandile Mjekevu.’

By Gareth Duncan