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2004 - 2009 Experimental Law Variations (ELVs)

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

Introduction

Problems were observed with the previous laws revolving around the fact that in practice the contest for the ball was often halted through law infringements. Different referees used different interpretations of the complex laws, resulting in many games being decided by penalty goals awarded by referees for infringements that were not immediately obvious to observers or even the players.

2004 - Project launched.
2005 - Laws Project Group formed.
2006 - Laws devised with initial tests at Stellenbosch University
2007 - Trials begin of 23 rule changes
2008 - Global Trials start of 13 of the initial 23 proposed rule changes
2009 - Final set of rules proposed for approval by conference
2009 - Approved changes approved by council and go into effect.

The ELVs were based on proposals made in the mid 2000s, and came to wider prominence following the 2007 Rugby World Cup when outgoing IRB president Syd Millar explained that in his opinion amendments were needed because delays in the release of the ball from the contest for possession were having adverse effects. In his view, the domination of defence over attack was slowing the continuity of play, exemplified by what some viewers considered a dour final match in which no tries were scored.

Millar said that the game needed to be sped up a bit, to make it easier to play, easier to referee, easier to understand and to produce more options for the players. The amendments concentrate on rucks and mauls, but include other aspects which help keep the ball in play and reduce stoppages for infringements and penalties.

IRB's ELV Educational Video

 

Bernard Lapasset Chairman, International Rugby Board welcomed the decision by the IRB Council in 2004 to review the Laws of the Game following recommendations that came out of the Conference on the Playing of the Game that was held in Auckland after Rugby World Cup 2003.

Subsequently, work was undertaken by an IRB Laws Project Group to study a group of Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) with the assistance of a number of Member Unions. The IRB trialled games at Stellenbosch University in South Africa using the experimental laws in 2006.

IRB Laws Project Group (The Laws Project Group was dissolved in April 2009 after selected ELV's were incorporated into the Laws of Rugby):

Laws Project Group:

  1. Chairman and IRB Council member Bill Nolan;
  2. ex-IRB president, Dr Syd Millar;
  3. IRB vice-chairman and former England International, Bill Beaumont
  4. IRB Development Manager Bruce Cook;
  5. IRB Medical Officer, Mick Molloy;
  6. former World Cup winning Wallaby coach Rod Macqueen;
  7. former Springbok coach Ian McIntosh;
  8. former Scottish coach Richie Dixon;
  9. former French player, coach and former IRB Regional Development Manager Pierre Villepreux;
  10. former All Black captain and Wellington coach Graham Mourie;
  11. the IRB Referee Manager Paddy O'Brien.

Resource editorial team: Steve Griffiths, Mark Harrington.

Resource consultancy team: Jean-Luc Barthes, Bernd Gabbei, Keith Hole, Tom Jones, Douglas Langley, Clive Leeke, Mike Luke, Mike Miller, Lee Smith, Greg Thomas.

After the initial trials at Stellenbosch University, the laws were enacted in the following competitions:

  • Scotland's Super Cup tournament for Premiership teams from January 2007.
  • Cambridge University in the first division of their inter-college league.
  • England's County Championship.
  • The Shute Shield club competition in New South Wales.
  • Brisbane club competitions.
  • The defunct Australian Rugby Championship, in response to the popular feedback received from the NSW and Queensland club competitions.
  • The international provincial Super 14 competition in 2008.

The South African, New Zealand and Australian rugby unions requested that the laws be introduced to the Tri Nations in 2008 as well but Syd Millar said the results in the Super 14, which is "near enough international level", needed to be studied before use in matches between nations can be sanctioned.

Following this unprecedented work, the Council approved a global trial at all levels of the Game of certain Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) which began on August 1, 2008. Lapasset also stated that this decision to implement a global trial represents an important milestone for the future of the Game.

The trial involved 13 ELVs that were undergoing practical on field experimentation in approved tournaments around the world over the previous two years.

The global trial of the IRB Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) started on August 1, 2008 and lasted 12 months.

This guide introduces these 13 ELVs: Guide to the ELVs

However, due to the fact that the southern hemisphere season commenced in February there were some southern tournaments that were trialling more than the 13 ELVs that were approved for global trials from August 1. Special dispensation was given to the southern hemisphere Unions to continue the more extensive ELV trials that were already in place. These tournamentscame into line in with the global trial at the start of the following southern hemisphere season.

Obviously there was a lot of debate at the time concerning whether the ELVs would improve the game or not, here is an example featured on the IRB's Total Rugby Radio 201 on January 22nd, 2009.

For the ELVs..
- Rod Macqueen (former Wallaby coach, member of IRB Laws Project Group)
- Paddy O'Brien (IRB Referee Manager, member of IRB Laws Project Group)

Against the ELVS..
- Eddie Jones (former Wallaby coach, Saracens Director of Rugby)
- Stephen Jones (Rugby Correspondent, UK Sunday Times)

The Player's view..
- David Barnes (Bath Rugby prop, Chairman PRA)


"What the Law changes have done is advantage the defensive team.. In my mind they've been an absolute failure in terms of improving the Game."
(Eddie Jones)

"The issue with Eddie is very similar to a lot of the things that are coming out of the Northern Hemisphere - he's missing the point."
(Rod Macqueen)

"I guess the ones that have caused the strongest opinions from the players are the Maul and the Lineout..
"Some of the Laws have meant that scrummaging is now more important."
(David Barnes)

The IRB next convende a meeting with representatives from the IRB Law Project Group, Executive Committee and Union representatives in March 2009

28th March, 2009

Top nations gathered in London to discuss the experimental law variations, that were being trialled on a global basis at that time. This full review of the ELV programme made recommendations to the IRB Rugby Committee which ELVs, if any, should be adopted into Law. The Rugby Committee was then to report to the IRB Council in July 2009 the IRB was then to determine one set of uniform Laws that would be played globally from August 2009 onwards.

The IRB who was organising the conference was to come armed with statistics about how ball-in-play time had increased since the ELV introductions, and how the game became more entertaining as a consequence. Any changes needed a 75% majority in May to come into force.

The RFU conducted exhaustive research into the impact of ELVs, analysing every match in the 2008-09 Guinness Premiership, as well as England’s nine internationals. Conclusions were that far from having positive impact, the changes made rugby more defence-oriented with fewer sides willing to take risks and a surfeit of kicking out of hand resulted as a consequence. Referees also complained the ELVs make their job more complicated.

Six Nations representatives met to discuss the variations during the 2009 six nations competition – England, Wales and Ireland were resolutely opposed to the vast majority, Scotland was in support, France equivocated and Italy did not attend, although Italian head coach Nick Mallett is known to oppose the maul rule.

The main supporters of the ELVs were in Sanzar, namely Australia, with New Zealand and South Africa’s position being they would have liked to see some changes

30th March 2009

Following widespread criticism that the impact of the ELVs, which included removing the maul as an attacking option because the defending team were allowed to legally collapse it, has led to mindless kicking and resulted in backlines being clogged up with forwards, the IRB asked McGeechan to address a meeting of the world rugby unions and other stakeholders at the Lensbury Club in south London. McGeechan, saw his own side Wasps' try-count fall dramatically from 63 last season to only 23 under the ELVs.

31st March 2009 ELV Conference

Senior stakeholders from the international Rugby community, including a number of the world’s top coaches, referees and administrators, met in London on Monday and Tuesday to review the Game’s Experimental Law Variations (ELV) programme. The four-year programme was to culminate in a decision in May by the IRB Council as to which ELVs might be accepted permanently into the Laws of the Game.

The aim of the Conference was to assess the impact of the global ELV trial and the additional variations being trialled by the SANZAR Unions, as well as to evaluate other ELVs being trialled by individual Unions. The Conference was hosted by the IRB Rugby Committee and Laws Project Group (LPG).

 

“We held a positive and constructive meeting at which all stakeholders were able to share their opinions on each of the ELVs. This was an important milestone for the ELV programme and it was crucial that robust discussion was entered into and that all positive and negative impacts of the ELVs were raised” Naturally opinions differed in several areas of the ELV programme. The IRB regards this as a healthy and positive state of affairs as the Game’s Laws have always and should continue to allow coaches and players to interpret Law so that different styles of play can be employed.”

“The Unions tabled detailed research and analysis to support their views. Everyone had the opportunity to air their views. What was clear was that there was agreement on many aspects of the ELVs and a collective will to see a return to one set of Laws to govern the Game as soon as possible.”

“This conference was not a decision-making meeting but at the end of the day the conference provided a set of collective recommendations on the ELVs to assist the IRB Rugby Committee in formulating its final recommendations for the IRB Council meeting on 13 May. Council will then decide which ELVs, if any, should be fully integrated into Law,” - Lapasset.

 

The Conference was the next step in the extensive global ELV consultation and evaluation process. Attendees were also presented with Game analysis and statistical surveys from over 800 matches, involving more than 3,000 players, coaches and referees at the Elite and Participation levels of the Game from 15 IRB Member Unions.

“It is has been a long road since the genesis of the ELV programme at the Conference on the Playing of the Game in Auckland in January 2004 when national coaches and administrators gathered following Rugby World Cup 2003 to debate the state of the Game,” said Lapasset.

“Collectively the participants requested that the IRB look into the Laws of the Game and mandated it to undertake a major review in areas such as the lineout, maul and sanctions, including turning penalties for technical offences into free kicks. The Laws Project Group was subsequently conceived, as were the Experimental Law Variations with initial trials starting in 2005.”

“In the past Law changes were discussed in theory and implemented without on-field testing but importantly this ELV programme has included global practical trials. The entire process is now coming to an end and the IRB would like to sincerely thank its Member Unions for their participation in what has been an unprecedented review of the Laws of the Game,” added Lapasset.

 

Recommendations for the IRB Rugby Committee

The following was recommended to the Rugby Committee for adoption into Law:

  • Law 6 – Assistant Referees allowed
  • Law 19 – Kicking directly into touch from ball played back into 22 equals no gain in ground
  • Law 19 – Quick Throw permitted in any direction except forward
  • Law 19 – Positioning of player in opposition to the player throwing-in to be two metres away from lineout and the line of touch
  • Law 19 – Pre-gripping of lineout jumpers allowed
  • Law 19 – Lifting in the lineout allowed
  • Law 19 – Positioning of Receiver must be two metres away from lineout
  • Law 20 – Five-metre offside line at the Scrum
  • Law 20 – Scrum half offside line at the Scrum
  • Law 22 – Corner Posts no longer touch in goal

The following was not recommended to the Rugby Committee for adoption into Law:

  • Law 17 - Maul - Head and Shoulders not to be lower than hips
  • Law 17 - Maul - Pulling Down the Maul
  • Law 19 – Freedom for each team to determine Lineout Numbers
  • Sanctions and Free Kicks (subsidiary recommendation for further examination)
  • Tackle/Ruck Infringements (subsidiary recommendation for ruling in law to be sought by a Union to clarify interpretation of current Law)

Other Union-specific ELVs:

  • Up to 15 minutes half time - recommended to Rugby Committee for adoption into Law
  • Rolling substitutions for Community Game – recommended to Rugby Committee for adoption into Law
  • Use of Under 19 variations at the scrum for Community Adult Game where agreed by the Union – recommended to Rugby Committee for adoption into Law
  • Protocol to extend the remit of the TMO – not recommended to the Rugby Committee for adoption into Law

ELV Conference attendees:

Bernard Lapasset (IRB Chairman), Bill Beaumont (IRB Vice Chairman and Laws Project Group), Mike Miller (IRB Chief Executive), Oregan Hoskins (IRB Executive Committee), Giancarlo Dondi (IRB Executive Committee), Peter Boyle (IRB Executive Committee), David Pickering (IRB Executive Committee), Jean Pierre Lux (IRB Rugby Committee), Geraint John (High Performance Director, Rugby Canada), Francis Baron (RFU), Rob Andrew (RFU), Kevin Bowring (RFU), Chris Cuthbertson (RFU), Roger Lewis (WRU), Joe Lydon (WRU), Bob Yeman (WRU), Phillip Browne (IRFU), Eddie Wigglesworth (IRFU), Owen Doyle (IRFU), Roy McCombe (SRU), Frank Hadden (SRU), Colin Thomson (SRU), Andre Watson (SARU), Johan Prinsloo (SARU), Peter de Villiers (SARU), David Nucifora (ARU), John O’Neill (ARU), Robbie Deans (ARU), Santiago Phelan (UAR), Ricardo Garcia Fernandez (UAR), Marcelo Toscano (UAR), Steve Tew (NZRU), Neil Sorensen (NZRU), Steve Hansen (NZRU), Nick Mallett (FIR), Francesco Ascione (FIR), Carlo Casagrande (FIR), Rene Hourquet (FFR), Jean Louis Barthes (FFR), Didier Retiere (FFR), Bill Nolan (Laws Project Group Chairman), Dr Syd Millar (Laws Project Group), Bruce Cook (Laws Project Group/IRB Development Manager), Ian McIntosh (Laws Project Group), Dr Mick Molloy (Laws Project Group/IRB Medical Officer), Graham Mourie (Chairman of IRB Rugby Committee & Laws Project Group), Paddy O’Brien (Laws Project Group/IRB Referee Manager), Pierre Villepreux (Laws Project Group), Richie Dixon (Laws Project Group), Rod Macqueen (Laws Project Group), Steve Griffiths (IRB Head of Technical Services), Corris Thomas (IRB Game Analysis), John Feehan (6 Nations), Derek McGrath (ERC Rugby), Ian McGeechan (British & Irish Lions), Lyndon Bray (NZRU Referee Manager), Nigel Owens (IRB Referee), Rob Nichol (IRPA), Damian Hopley (IRPA).

*At the conclusion of the conference the FFR tabled its proposal to deal with the issue of uncontested scrums. This will be further discussed by the Rugby Committee and Unions will be able to give further feedback before the May 13 Council meeting.

27th April, 2009 IRB committee ratification of ELV recommendations

The International Rugby Board's Rugby Committee ratified recommendations made at the Experimental Law Variations (ELV) Conference on which ELVs should be recommended to the IRB Council for adoption into Law.

The Rugby Committee met in Dublin to review the ELV programme, including the SANZAR variations and the collective recommendations of the two-day Conference in London the previous month in order to formulate its final recommendations for the IRB Council meeting on 13 May.

In total 10 of the 13 ELVs that comprise the current global trial programme were recommended by the Rugby Committee for adoption into Law, supporting the recommendations made by the Game’s senior stakeholders at the Lensbury Conference.

These ELVs included the five-metre Scrum offside line, the quick throw-in, lifting of lineout jumpers, Assistant Referees and kicking directly into touch from the 22. The Committee also made recommendations that three Union-specific ELVs be adopted into Law, including the ability for a Union to implement a maximum 15-minute half time in matches under its jurisdiction.

The Rugby Committee evaluation was the next step in the global ELV consultation and evaluation process which began with the Conference of the Game in 2004. On 13 May the IRB Council would decide which ELVs, if any, should be fully integrated into Law.

Recommendations for the IRB Council

The following is recommended to the IRB Council for adoption into Law:

  • Law 6 – Assistant Referees able to assist Referees in any way the Referee requires
  • Law 19 – If a team puts the ball back in their own 22 and the ball is subsequently kicked directly into touch there is no gain in ground
  • Law 19 – A quick throw may be thrown in straight or towards the throwing team’s goal line
  • Law 19 – The receiver at the lineout must be two metres back away from the lineout
  • Law 19 – The player who is in opposition to the player throwing in the ball must stand in the area between the five metre line and touch line and must be two metres from the line of touch and at least two metres from the lineout
  • Law 19 – Lineout players may pre-grip a jumper before the ball is thrown in
  • Law 19 – The lifting of lineout jumpers is permitted
  • Law 20 – Introduction of an offside line five metres behind the hindmost feet of the Scrum
  • Law 20 – Scrum half offside line at the Scrum
  • Law 20 – The corner posts are no longer considered to be touch in goal except when the ball is grounded against the post

Union-specific ELVs recommended to Council:

  • Unions may implement rolling substitutions at defined levels of the Game
  • A Union having a jurisdiction over a Game may implement a half time interval of not more than 15 minutes
  • A Union may implement the Under 19 Scrum Law Variation at a defined level of the Game under its jurisdiction

The following is not recommended to the IRB Council for adoption into Law:

    • Law 17 - Maul - Head and Shoulders not to be lower than hips
    • Law 17 - Maul - Pulling Down the Maul
    • Law 19 – Freedom for each team to determine Lineout Numbers

The 'Sanctions regarding free kicks' and 'Tackle/Ruck' ELVs, the two most controversial ELVS, will not be recommended to the IRB Council for adoption into Law. However, the Rugby Committee has deferred these areas for further consultation. The maul, the traditional strength of northern hemisphere countries especially England, virtually disappeared from the game since the ELVs began in August the previous year.

The idea of each team determining the number of players in line-outs was also rejected and the sanctions ELV which caused most offences to be penalised with free kicks is to be reviewed.

Final ELV guide

Clarification Law 17.5 (Notice of wording error)

ELV Rulings

13th May 2009 IRB Council ratify IRB committee recommendations

The International Rugby Board Council ratified recommendations made by the IRB Rugby Committee and approved 10 of the 13 global Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) for adoption into the Laws of the Game.

The recommendations were unanimously approved and the integrated set of Laws will be implemented globally from May 23 or from the start of the next domestic season where competitions transcend the implementation date.

In addition to the suite of global ELVs, three Union-specific ELVs were also approved for integration into Law. These include the ability for a Union to implement a maximum 15-minute half time in matches under its jurisdiction.

“One of the recommendations of the ELV Conference held in London at the end of March was the universal application of one set of Laws that govern the Game as soon as possible after Council. This was recommended by stakeholders from the international Game, including some of the world’s top Coaches, Referees and Administrators,” said IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset.

“The implementation date approved by the IRB Council achieves that goal and represents the most suitable application date. All international matches from May 23 onwards will be captured, while domestic and regional competitions played across the implementation date will be played under the current ELVs until their conclusion,” added Lapasset.

“Today’s announcement brings to an end the extensive global ELV consultation and evaluation process which began with the Conference on the Game in Auckland in January 2004. The IRB would like to sincerely thank its Member Unions for their participation in what has been an unprecedented review of the Laws of the Game,” added Lapasset.

 

The following ELVs were adopted into Law:

  • Law 6 – Assistant Referees able to assist Referees in any way the Referee requires
  • Law 19 – If a team puts the ball back in their own 22 and the ball is subsequently kicked directly into touch there is no gain in ground
  • Law 19 – A quick throw may be thrown in straight or towards the throwing team’s goal line
  • Law 19 – The receiver at the lineout must be two metres back away from the lineout
  • Law 19 – The player who is in opposition to the player throwing in the ball must stand in the area between the five metre line and touch line and must be two metres from the line of touch and at least two metres from the lineout
  • Law 19 – Lineout players may pre-grip a jumper before the ball is thrown in
  • Law 19 – The lifting of lineout jumpers is permitted
  • Law 20 – Introduction of an offside line five metres behind the hindmost feet of the Scrum
  • Law 20 – Scrum half offside line at the Scrum
  • Law 20 – The corner posts are no longer considered to be touch in goal except when the ball is grounded against the post

Union-specific ELVs approved by Council:

  • Unions may implement rolling substitutions at defined levels of the Game
  • A Union having jurisdiction over a Game may implement a half time interval of not more than 15 minutes, but not at international level
  • A Union may implement the Under 19 Scrum Law Variation at a defined level of the Game under its jurisdiction
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