With the spectre of a raft of new laws being foisted upon the game, Ed Morrison, the head of England’s referees, warned that coaches in the Premiership were hostile to the initiative.
“I’ve not met one Premiership director of rugby who would wish these laws upon the game,” said Morrison, who has had to spent a “vast amount” of time touring round clubs to clarify rulings and allay anxieties surrounding the much-maligned Experimental Law Variations (ELVs), reports Rugby365.
Even though Morrison was at pains to stress that had briefed his referees to be “positive and non-judgmental”, he has not succeeded in encouraging head coaches to be optimistic, reports the Daily Telegraph.
Saracens’ director of rugby, former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones, believes the International Rugby Board (IRB) have plucked the ELVs “from a cornflakes packet,” while Sale’s Philippe Saint-Andre has watched various games with increasing bafflement.
“Nothing is being refereed in the same way,” Saint-Andre complained.
”It’s been like a swimming pool at the breakdown, with arms all over the place. We don’t know what is happening.”
Morrison’s trusted lieutenants, former international officials Brian Campsall and Tony Spreadbury, have been on the road as well. The worst excesses of the ELVs, a cack-handed and self-interested project, have been kept at bay in the Northern Hemisphere.
Morrison’s office will insist on enforcing the current law at the breakdown, however.
“If you’re off your feet at the breakdown, you’ll be out of the game,” Campsall said. “The only time there can be a true contest for the ball is when a player is on his feet.”
To that end, Rugby Football Union (RFU) disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett announced that there was to be a crackdown on players taking out opponents on the fringe of rucks, and on players entering a breakdown without binding on another player.
“There will be zero tolerance in that regard,” said Blackett, who also revealed that there has been a significant improvement in on-field discipline, with red cards and citings reducing last season from 74 to 51. Yellow cards for foul play are also down, from 463 to 318.
There is great concern still, though, as to what might happen as a result of the maul being effectively outlawed.
“There will be more kicking and not much rugby played in the middle third of the field,” is the view of Wasps and Lions head coach Ian McGeechan.