Its been well flagged that a number of last season’s ELVs have passed into Law, the ones that did not make it were being able to legally pull down a maul (good), those Free Kick sanctions tried in SANZAR (good) and not bothering about numbers in the line-out (bad for refs). There has been some tweaking with the off-side at the scrum, with the defending scrum half now required to be besides the putting-in scrummy or behind the 5m off-side line. Once the ball is in, he can go were he likes as long as its on-side.
These are generally instruction on how the law are to be interpreted and tighten up on what referees may varyingly judge to material. They generally move the game towards encouraging positive play and fair competition.
The big one this year is dealing with obstruction at the maul, anything other than the ball carrier being at the front as the maul forms will be obstruction. Lineout lifters must be careful how the maul forms when they land the jumper. Kick-offs catchers can’t rely on the binding onto a couple of loitering forwards in front of him. Once the ball is at the back of the maul, the ball carrier must lead the detachment and players must bind on behind him. Its all about fair contest for the ball, letting the oppo have a fair crack at stealing the ball.
The next directive involved the tackle and will generate lots of confusion. The first player arriving at the tackle will be given priority in playing the ball with his hands, even if the ruck forms around him. Last year, I would have cried “hands off, ruck!” now, as long as the player has arrived through the gate or was the tackler and is ON HIS FEET, he can handle the ball. This may come as a surprise to many players who have always played this way but finally the IRB are ‘legalising’ Richie McCaw’s game plan! What is import is intent; is that arriving playing looking to play the ball or just kill it? The latter still gets a penalty. The thoughts on this are this will improve the speed of service of the ball and will generate more space as teams will have to commit more bodies to rucks to win back the ball. In truth, at my level I doubt this will be clean enough to call but it should make a difference to what you scream at the TV.
One final thing, spear-tackles or any thing that involves lifting a player off his feet and dropping him down will be an automatic red card. Just like Rich Brown for the Aussies on Saturday who got, oh yes, a yellow card. Remember folk TV rugby is refereed very differently to your Saturday afternoon game.