A reduction in scrum resets, sevens-style free kicks, and the “use it” call being strictly enforced are among law variations and focal points for the second season of Super Rugby AU.
Rugby Australia’s [RA] provincial competition returns to action on Friday week with a double-header that will also herald the official start of the game’s broadcast partnership with Nine Entertainment Co. and Stan Sport.
And the broadcasters have already seemingly had a win, with Rugby Australia continuing with its push to speed up the game, but with what appears to be greater backing from the game’s global stewards World Rugby.
Having last year implemented successful trials of goal-line dropouts for players held up over the tryline, knock-ons over the tryline and kicks forced in-goal; as well as the 50/22 and 22/50 kicks; Super Rugby AU will this year also adopt sevens-style free kicks for restart errors such as an offside player, a kick out on the full or a restart that does not go the requisite five or 10 metres depending on its restart variant.
But it’s a focus on the “use it” call and a push to limit the amount of scrum resets, and use of the TMO to police the allotted 30 second scrum reset limit, that should have both Nine and Stan executives smiling.
“In terms of the scrum, under the current law, scrums must be set within 30 seconds of the referee making the mark,” RA’s National Referees Manager Scott Young told reporters on a Zoom call while explaining the variations on Tuesday.
“Now again, like that five-second caterpillar [ruck], we haven’t been applying that and TMOs will assist referees in Super Rugby to ensure that this is happening. And on top of that…the players and coaches are well aware that this has to be applied, if teams aren’t then it’s a free kick.
“So, a strict adherence to the scrum [laws], to try and avoid them taking too long.”
The “caterpillar ruck” mentioned by Young has become a blight on the game, having first found its way to the top level in the northern hemisphere. It involves an attacking side stacking player after player at the back of the ruck, giving the scrum-half an opportunity to safely clear the ball through a box kick.
Its use has frustrated fans across the globe, with referees in the north having already moved to eradicate the play, or at least ping those sides who do not move the ball within five seconds once it has been won at the back of the ruck.
Better still, rather than set a scrum, the defending team will be awarded a free kick, keeping the game moving in the process.
“Whilst this has already been in law, that once a referee calls ‘use it’ the team has five seconds to use it, [it] hasn’t been happening as you probably know, and with the caterpillar [and] the box kick happening…the old variation if it wasn’t undertaken it would be a scrum, but we’ve had a variation approved here by World Rugby to make it a free kick,” Young explained.
“That law was already applied a couple of times in the trial match between the Reds and Waratahs out in Narrabri, just on the weekend.”
The variations, shift towards free kicks and avoidance of multiple scrum resets – referees have been encouraged to limit the amount of resets — will likely be welcomed not just by RA’s new broadcasters – who were involved in discussions – but also Australian fans who’ve grown tired of endless resets and dead playing time.
But it has left Australia open to the same criticism the Wallabies have had to cop for years, that the national side is one of the weaker scrummaging nations and that RA is merely trying to manage a supposed Test weakness, rather than make the game a more attractive spectacle.
RA’s Director of Rugby Scott Johnson, however, believes the Wallabies’ front-row depth would rival any Test nation at the moment and played down suggestions Australia was trying to move the game away from one of its two key set-pieces.
“If you talk about the scrum, and you just talk about our country, I think we’ve got the ability with the current crop of players and the next generation of players to be the best scrum in the world,” he said.
“If you talk about the 30 second law, it was to speed the assembly time up, that’s the issue. It is in law, [but] we are finding that teams are taking an inordinate amount of time to get there. We want to bring focus to that, but not endanger the player.
“We have got trouble with resets in our competition, and we’re having some dialogue about that. We had a meeting last night to discuss that, with the coaches, and we’ll have a symposium over the next month to see, as a country, how we can benefit from the talent that we’ve got at our disposal. It’s world class, [we want] to be the best in the world.”
Johnson also said the Wallabies and not the new broadcasters had remained RA’s focus during law discussions, but also insisted Australia had an opportunity to lead the way in creating meaningful change for the global game and its future.
“From our perspective that [appeasing broadcasters] is not our mandate; I want to be clear, we want to make winning Wallaby teams. So that’s our mandate as rugby folk,” he said.
“We are cognisant of the fact that there is a competitive sporting landscape in Australia, but it’s not the top of our agenda. We need winning Wallaby teams.
“But if we are to make legislation change, I want them to be long-term changes. I want to see Australia be innovative and improve the spectacle of the game. There are obviously anomalies, the game’s moved on, players have exposed certain laws. So our mandate is to be seen as being creative for the betterment of the game, not to tear at the fabric, but to be better as a game.
“And all the laws that we’re pushing and the changes that we’ve got support from World Rugby [for], I think it’s [been] deemed to say ‘well, let’s trial this because it could improve the game’. And I think we’re all for that.”
RA was also set to unveil a change to the “golden point” extra-time periods, but was forced to review the variation at the time of publication.