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Northern rugby sides will have to change with times

By Peter Bills

The final Saturday of the 2010 Six Nations Championship brings a clear warning to the rugby countries of the northern hemisphere.



To put it bluntly, it is this. ‘Adapt or die’.

Unless the rugby playing lands from this part of the world are prepared to be more flexible and get on with the new law interpretations, they will be left behind. Already, the southern hemisphere is showing the way in how to mastermind a new attacking game based on four particular law interpretations.

Moaning about the new ideas, as we saw in the wake of last weekend’s 6 Nations programme especially by the Irish in Dublin, will get them nowhere. And that’s where they will end up on the world stage — nowhere — if they keep bleating about it and don’t change.

For better or worse, the IRB have decided that proper adherence to laws already in the book but hitherto widely ignored, is the way forward for the game in an attacking sense. For me, it is infinitely for the better.

It turns out that, according to IRB sources, every country in the northern hemisphere WAS warned even before the start of the autumn programme, that these new, stricter interpretations would be introduced during the course of the season. So what was that all about after the Croke Park Test match last Saturday when Irish coach Declan Kidney expressed amazement that such changes would be sprung on the countries halfway through the 6 Nations?

Someone, somewhere got the wrong end of the stick, that’s for sure.

Personally, although I am a firm believer in the new interpretations and the changes to the game they are sure to bring, I think it was daft to try and introduce them at any stage during the northern hemisphere season. In May, the domestic season is over and a month before the northern hemisphere countries tour in the southern hemisphere, was the best time to do it, in my view.

However, having said that, it is for the teams in this part of the world to adapt and quickly. If they don’t, they will be left behind.

A top IRB official told me this week “Some people in this part of the world are ridiculing the new interpretations (remember, they are NOT new laws) purely because of that one-off score line of 72-65 when the Chiefs beat the Lions in this season’s Super 14. They say that showed it was ridiculous rugby.

“But that was a one-off. If you look at almost all the other scores, you will see that tries have been scored but the rugby has been highly competitive with defence just as important as ever. The difference under these interpretations is that there is more chance for the attacking side to win quick second phase ball which is crucial to producing a decent game.”

I agree with that. Four key areas are being targeted under this crackdown — releasing instantly the tackled player at the breakdown so that he can free the ball; allowing defenders to tackle the player in possession at the line-out as a rolling maul forms, preventing players in front of the kicker advancing to seal off running opportunities for the opponent catching the downfield kick and, finally, bringing scrums closer before the engagement with the intent of, hopefully, preventing so many collapses.

The two key aspects are releasing the tackled player at the breakdown and not allowing players in front of the kicker to advance in support of a downfield kick.

Both are having a profound effect on the game in the southern hemisphere and it is already becoming a better product.

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