Home ELV's Let’s get a’rucking

Let’s get a’rucking

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One of the most extraordinary aspects of the unfolding Super 14 is the fact that the Aussies are complaining that the law experiments have rendered the game less physical.

Dan Retief writes for Superrugby that down the years it’s been the Kiwis and we Saffers who have complained about the Aussies always pushing to depower the scrum, whingeing about rucking and generally going on about the “thugby? that New Zealand and South African fans so revel in.

Many have been the laments from us about the changes the Aussies have visited upon the game in the name of continuity and entertainment as part of their endless battle with league.

But now you have Brumbies coach Laurie Fisher, in the midst of a tirade against South African referee Willie Roos, actually calling for the re-introduction of the ruck to professional rugby.

Fascinating to say the least because if there was one aspect the Aussies used to get in a huff about it was being worked over by the studs of some brutal Kiwi sheep farmer and spewed out the back of the ruck like a roo being spat out from under the wheels of a big articulated unit somewhere in the outback.

Rucking used to be seen as a lame excuse for gratuitous violence so I’m pleased to see the Aussies have taken up the cudgels – their Press being quick to pick up on the theme raised by Fisher.

In fact it is more surprising that the Kiwis have not been wailing even louder.

In a column some time ago I wondered why the New Zealanders were so quiet about the “no-studs-on-the-man? instruction to referees for it robbed them of arguably the defining aspect of their game.

To my mind there are few finer sights than that of an All Black pack, getting into tight formation, swooping low, and blasting over the ball on the ground (and whoever or whatever else happens to be there) to leave it free and ready to be played with.

We in South Africa have never really been good at rucking; perhaps because of the erratic bounce of the ball on our hard grounds. South Africans preferred to maul the ball (i.e. get it off the ground and use our traditional strength to wrestle opponents into submission) and tended to think that rucking meant a licence to kick the s*#! out of anyone lying near it.

However the rule about studs making contact with the bloke on the ground denied the Kiwis one of their key attacking weapons and now the ELVs allied to free-kicks rather than penalties have made it worse.

Players now have carte blanche to get their hands on the ball and stay attached in the knowledge that they can’t be penalised with three points while the attackers have no way of clearing the loiterers – as they would have been had they been permitted to ruck.

There is also no point in calling for the referee to be quicker on the whistle. We’ve seen what happens when there are a succession of free-kicks and tap-and-goes. Attacking teams would much prefer to get the ball quickly going forward with some opponents tied up in the ruck rather than standing up and facing them.

There are some aspects of the ELVs that have made for a better game – such as the extra space at scrums – but there has also been a great deal of sloppy play and unnecessary kicking.

The breakdown continues to be the key problem and for once I’d like to sing along with the Aussies. Bring the ruck back so teams can move the lurkers themselves, blow the off-sides laws as they’re written in the book and you’ll immediately see a more fluid game.

Sadly the biggest victims of the experimentation are the poor old referees. They don’t make the laws but have to apply them and they’re on a hiding to nothing because to my mind some of the laws being trialed are complicating rather than simplifying their job.

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