Super Rugby AU offers glimpse of rugby’s future if law changes are adopted
World Rugby’s amendments include new kicking options and reducing tackle height
Joe Powell of the Brumbies scores a try during the round one Super Rugby AU match against Rebels at GIO Stadium in Canberra, Australia. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
The Super Rugby AU tournament, which comprises the Australian franchises, kicked off last weekend and offered a glimpse of what rugby might look like if World Rugby adopts the six law changes that the global governing body is currently trialling.
The amendments proposed by World Rugby include the 50:22 and 22:50 kicking options, reducing the tackle height to waist level, the introduction of an infringement limit (cumulative penalties and free-kicks for teams) punishable by a yellow card to the player taking his team over that threshold and a goal-line dropout, among other alterations.
Rugby Australia decided, following consultation with coaches, players and officials within the country, to adopt a few more innovations – previously agreed by World Rugby and implemented in Super Rugby Aotearoa, in New Zealand which resumed on June 13th – including being able to replace a player who had received a red card 20 minutes after the sending off and also the introduction of “Super Time”, to guarantee a result in the event of a drawn match after 80-minutes.
These initiatives were to supplement general directives to referees to reduce the number of scrum resets where possible and to be strict in officiating at the breakdown, especially ensuring that a tackler rolls away immediately towards the touchline and with an extra focus on players being “clearly” onside. Any secondary movement by the tackled player other than placing the ball or passing will be penalised.
World Rugby has prioritised injury prevention at the breakdown which is responsible for approximately 8 per cent of match injuries.
The tagline for the changes is to make the game safer and to try to eke out a little more space to enable attacking rugby to breathe by forcing teams to drop players to cover the backfield and stop them defending with 13 or 14 players in the front-line across the pitch.
It also rewards a well-executed kicking game with several examples from the weekend of the 50:22 and 22:50 kicks. If the team in possession kicks the ball from inside their own half indirectly into touch (it bounces first) inside their opponents’ 22 (50:22 kick) or from inside their own 22 into their opponents’ half, again it must bounce into touch first (22:50 kick), they will throw in to the resultant lineout.
Previously it would have been a lineout to the defending team. A team that takes/passes the ball back into their half or 22 and then kicks it indirectly to touch will not be awarded the lineout, nor if it originates from a free-kick, maul, tackle or ruck, or has been touched by an opposing player in those areas of the pitch.
The “tackle technique warning” (to be administered by the referee initially) which was trialled at the last two Under-20 World Championships (2018 and 2019) reduced the incidence of concussion in those tournaments by more than 50 per cent. The legal tackle height drops from chest to waist, to try to mitigate head clashes and encourage more offloading.
The television match official can now review a yellow card incident while a player is in the sin bin and upgrade the card to red if warranted. The new “infringement limit” means that once a team has reached that threshold of offences, a mandatory yellow card is given to the last offending player as a team sanction.
If a player is held up over the goal-line in the act of trying to score a try, the defending team will drop out from behind or on their line. They can do so from anywhere along the goal-line; it must be done without undue delay and travel a minimum of 5m.
The addendums in Super Rugby include a goal-line drop out for balls kicked into the in-goal area by one team and touched down by their opponents. A kick originating in the attacking 22m area cannot be marked by the defending team within their 22m area. The kick can, however, be marked within the defending team’s in-goal area and play restarts with a 22 drop out.
A player who receives a red card may be replaced after 20 minutes but if all the replacements have been used, the team must finish the game shorthanded. “Super Time “consists of two five-minute periods should a game finish in a draw after 80 minutes. The first team to score – try, penalty, drop goal – wins the match.
The statistics from the opening weekend of Super Rugby AU are positive with ball-in-play time up 90 seconds from the previous season to 31.3 minutes – in New Zealand it’s up to 34 minutes which would compare favourably with a Test match – while there were fewer turnovers and penalties too.
In terms of the Northern Hemisphere, the French Rugby Federation are the most high-profile advocates, having agreed to a number of the initiatives from the Top 14 down to underage rugby, while Italy and Georgia will trial the 50:22 (22:50) kicks in domestic competitions.