Rugby: Rule changes to 'supercharge Super 14'

By Mark Geenty

SYDNEY - Sanzar today confirmed its intention to "supercharge Super 14 rugby", and hopes the new law variations will also spice up next year's Tri-Nations series.

Australian Rugby Union (ARU) deputy chief executive Matt Carroll, speaking on behalf of tournament governing body Sanzar, revealed eight experimental law variations (ELVs) would be introduced for the Super 14 starting in February.

They include free kicks instead of penalties for most infringements other than offside and foul play; requiring each backline to be 5m from the hindmost foot at the scrum; not allowing a ball that has been passed or run inside the 22m line to be kicked out on the full; and modification of the complex tackled ball rules.

"The primary aim of the new laws is to keep the ball in play longer, fewer stoppages, more running rugby, therefore a more free-flowing, faster and exciting style of play," said Carroll, adding rugby needed to become more appealing to fans and players alike.

However the three nations baulked at other proposed variations, which included allowing hands in the ruck, collapsing the rolling maul and unlimited numbers in the lineout.

The tricky part for the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks players will be having to revert to the old rules immediately after the Super 14.

The ELVs won't be used for the June tests, including the All Blacks' home matches against Ireland and England, but will likely be re-introduced for the Tri-Nations starting in July, if the International Rugby Board (IRB) approves.

"Our coaching staff believe the players will readily adapt back to the existing laws for those inbound tours," Carroll said.

"For the Tri-Nations it's most likely, it'll just depend on the final date the IRB puts in place for these laws to be implemented worldwide.

"It's the preference of Sanzar to play all the Sanzar competitions under the same laws. We obviously believe in them."

Carroll believed the earliest the ELVs would be implemented for tests globally would be from the Tri-Nations onwards, subject to their success in Super 14.

The New Zealand, Australian and South African unions nutted out the ELVs at last week's IRB meeting in London. The IRB requested Sanzar trial them at Super 14 level.

Carroll said the changes would be reviewed throughout the Super 14 and minor changes made if necessary.

Said New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chief executive Steve Tew: "It will be the highest level of rugby competition at which they have been trialled, which is exciting.

"The trial of the ELVs in our (second tier provincial) competition saw a more open game and the variations we are trialing were positively received by our players, coaches and referees."

Super 14 coaches and referees are currently digesting the changes at the annual Sanzar conference in Sydney.

Blues assistant coach Greg Cooper said the new rules would speed up the game and make it more entertaining.

He said originally the coaches were looking at up to 30 different changes to the rules but some just were not right for the Super 14 game.

Cooper said the compromised variations would have a positive effect on the game in terms of making it easier to referee and to watch.

He said the coaches said no to being able to collapse the maul and use hands in the ruck.

Cooper said what SANZAR had settled on was a good level of change would have positive benefits for next year's competition.

Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie gave the rules an immediate thumbs-up.

"We've been calling for this for a long time so it's great to see it locked in stone," he said.

"It's a big win for attacking rugby."

ARU general manager high performance Pat Howard, a former Wallaby, said the biggest strength of the ELVs would be fewer shots at goal, and the team that scored the most tries would generally win.

As seen in the Australian provincial competition, fatigue would set in during the last quarter, resulting in more tries.

Howard said the collapse of the rolling maul wasn't introduced because of safety reasons, while other proposed ELVs had been "inconclusive" when trialed in various domestic competitions.

The ELVs were developed at South Africa's Stellenbosch University and tweaked by an international panel including former Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen and New Zealand's IRB referees' manager Paddy O'Brien.

A list of the changes:

Corner posts:

1 - Corner posts will be positioned at the outside junction of the goal line and the touch line.

If a player is in possession of the ball and touches a corner post he will not be in touch unless he touches the touchline or the ground beyond the touchline.

If the ball is not being carried by a player and it touches the corner post the ball will be deemed to be touch-in-goal.

Inside the 22m line:

2 - When a defending player receives the ball outside the 22m line and passes, puts or takes the ball back inside the 22m, the following can occur.

a. If the ball is then kicked directly into touch, the lineout is in line with where the ball was kicked.

b. If a tackle, ruck or maul is subsequently formed and the ball is then kicked directly into touch, the lineout is where the ball crossed the touchline.

Lineout:

3 - On a quick throw-in, the ball can be thrown straight or backwards towards the defenders' goal line, but not forward towards the opposition goal line.

Breakdown (tackle/post tackle):

4 - Players entering the breakdown area must do so through the gate (from the hindmost foot).

5 - Immediately the tackle occurs there are offside lines.

6 - The halfback should not be touched unless he has his hands on the ball.

Scrum:

7 - The offside line for players who are not in the scrum and who are not the teams' halfback, is 5m behind the hindmost foot of the scrum.

Sanctions:

8 - For all offences other than offside, not entering through the gate, and law 10 (foul play), the sanction is a free kick (rather than a penalty).

- NZPA / NEWSTALK ZB

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