Tuesday, 19 May 2009

British Lions to play under ELVs

The IRB recently endorsed a recommendation to incorporate 10 of 13 Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) into the official rugby union laws. These are to be implemented globally from 23 May 2009, just in time for the 2009 British Lions tour to South Africa!

Let's hope Geech and his team saw this coming, or the Lions could be at a significant disadvantage - they've been playing under the old laws in the Six Nations, Guiness Premiership and Heineken Cup while the southern hemisphere boys have been playing the ELVs for the last couple of years!

ELVs not adopted

The following ELVs have not been adopted:
  • 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.

Probably the most significant one there is not being able to pull down the maul - one suspects this could be a key weapon as both the Lions and Springboks are likely to field big packs and adopt a forward-oriented approach, at least initially.

The other significant decision was not to implement the system of awarding free kicks rather than full penalties for most infringements, which should bring the kickers into the game more, and keep defences honest in the strike zone.

The following ELVs will be adopted

  • Law 06 - 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.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

British Lions Record in South Africa

In anticipation of the 2009 British Lions rugby tour to South Africa, I thought it would be interesting to review the results of previous Lions tours to South Africa. As they say in the financial world "past performance is no guarantee of future returns"; still, if nothing else, an appreciation of the past can enhance enjoyment of the present.

British Lions Tour 1924

Although there were several British tours to South Africa prior to 1924, this was the first time they were to be known as the Lions. The team experienced a number of injuries, which contributed to them winning only 9 of their 21 matches, including defeat in all tests.

British Lions Tour 1938

In 1938 the Boks were the unofficial world champions, having beaten both New Zealand and Australia in their own back yards the previous year. Predictably the hosts won the first two tests comfortably, but were stunned when the Lions managed to win the third.

British Lions Tour 1955

The 1955 Lions produced some thrilling running rugby to share the series with the mighty Springboks 2-2. In so doing they severly diminished the Boks' aura of invincibility.

British Lions Tour 1962

In contrast, the Lions adopted a far more forwards-oriented approach on the 1962 tour, but although they matched the Springbok forwards, the backs were unable to utilise possession effectively, and the Lions went down 0-3 after drawing the first test.

British Lions Tour 1968

1968 saw a repeat scoreline, with the tourists losing the test series 0-3, having to content themselves with a single draw against the Boks.

British Lions Tour 1974

This was arguably the Lions' finest hour, remaining unbeaten on the tour, the only blemish on their perfect record being a draw in the final test. The team, led by inspirational captain Willie John McBride refused to back down to the Springboks' physical intimidation, and in fact seized the initiative with their famous 99 call. Interestingly, McBride has recently hinted that this may be the key to winning the 2009 tests too - not out-and-out fisticuffs of course, but that the battle will be won and lost in the scrums.

British Lions Tour 1980

1980 was a turbulent time in South Africa's history, and the tour went ahead in spite of opposition from the British government and various pressure groups opposed to the Apartheid system. In contrast, the South African government was all too keen to "keep politics out of sport"! Unfortunately the touring party experienced a number of serious injuries on tour which contributed to a 1-3 series loss.

British Lions Tour 1997

By the 1997 tour, Apartheid was a thing of the past, and the Springboks were reigning world champions after winning the 1995 World Cup at the first attempt. In spite of being underdogs and scoring fewer tries than the Boks though, the Lions managed a 2-1 series win in the tests.

British Lions Tour 2009

And that brings us to the eagerly-anticipated 2009 tour. That history is not yet written, and as interesting as it is to look back at previous tours, once the players run out onto the pitch, past results count for very little. But there is no doubt the world champion Springboks will want to set the record straight after losing the 1997 test series. The question is: will the Lions have the players, tactics and self-belief to build on that success? Time will tell...