At last! The laws advisory group have finally come up with some law changes that make complete sense and will have a real impact on the flow of the game.
Most changes in recent years have exacerbated the problems they were supposed to solve, creating unforeseen side effects that made the game slower and clogged up the process of recycling the ball at the breakdown. On the evidence of the first weekend of Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO14 matches, they have reversed that process with two simple but hugely important changes.
Allowing the tackler to regain his feet and join the contest for the ball even if he was on the wrong side was always bizarre. It looked wrong. Half the players and all the spectators would appeal for offside because it would have been offside in every other phase of the game -- it felt wrong and now once again it is wrong -- a win, win for everybody.
The intention was to increase the chances of a turnover at the breakdown. The result was often messy ball and a slowing down of the recycling process which gave the defending side more time to regroup and fill any holes the first phase had created.
Looking at the number of tries scored at the weekend it has had an immediate beneficial effect. Every game seemed to be played at a faster pace and the ball was in play longer.
The other experimental law change that unquestionably helped in that is the changes at the scrum. The whole process of setting the scrum had become a blight on the game. It took forever, often had to be reset on two or three occasions, resulted in far too many penalties and had become a charade as referees allowed the scrum-half to feed his own side.
Now, he can stand nearer his own front row but must put the ball in straight and, importantly, one of the front row players must strike for the ball. It can be any front row player but should make the specialist 'hooker' a factor in the game once more. The scrum-half will also be in control of when to feed the ball instead of having to wait for an instruction from the referee so the timing between the two players will once again become an art to be practised and perfected.
Although it is dangerous to draw hard and fast conclusions on the evidence of one weekend there were fewer scrum penalties in the first round of matches and far fewer resets so the ball was in play for longer - happy days.
Some purists will argue that allowing the scrum-half to favour his own side of the tunnel still makes it an unfair contest but the object of the scrum is to get the ball back into play after a minor infringement -- a knock-on or a forward pass -- so the non-offending side surely deserves something of an advantage hence feeding from the looseheadad side.
The referees have a massive role to play here. Providing they are diligent in applying the striking for the ball element of the law we should at last be rid of the crooked feed -- if you put the ball into your own second row it will be impossible for the front row to strike it and therefore you are penalised. Striking for the ball should also reduce the number of penalties because the impasse where the ball is sitting in the tunnel and both sets of front-rows wrestle for an advantage -- always a big cause of penalties because somebody would go down, up or crooked -- will also be gone.
The only way of winning the ball against the head should be to push your opponents off the ball so timing the push for that moment when the hooker has to go on to one foot to strike will again become a skill to be practised.
Quick ball from a scrum should also be coming back into fashion. There was a time when hookers would practise heeling the ball through different channels. Route one -- between the left second-row and the flanker -- was when you wanted quick ball either to launch a surprise attack from the base or because you knew you were going to be under pressure from a heavier, stronger scrimmaging unit.
The quest for quick ball has also been helped by the last part of the new scrummaging laws -- allowing the No. 8 to pick-up from between the legs of his second-rows. Previously that would have been deemed illegal because you were handling the ball in a scrum.
In the past, The Laws Advisory Group have been guilty of changing the game in ways they never intended by failing to think through the consequences of law changes, but this time -- fingers crossed -- they have got it right. Officially, it is a season long trial [the southern hemisphere will not start using them until January 1st] but, on the evidence so far, the sooner they go into the statute book the better.