NZ rugby to trial two refs, new laws in national provincial championship in 2016
Former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was a master at making a tackle and then stealing the ball, but under World Rugby’s proposed law changes that action will become nearly impossible for tacklers.
Two referees will officiate together during New Zealand’s national provincial championship next year as part of a World Rugby trial of proposed rule changes.
The second on-field official will mainly be used to rule on a new offside line that will be moved one metre back from a redefined ruck, where the confusing “gate” will be ditched and the rights of the tackler reduced.
New Zealand Rugby wasn’t planning to unveil the proposed rule changes until early next year, but they are widely known after provincial unions sounded out clubs across the country about whether or not they wanted their premier competitions to trial the rules in order to prepare players for the representative season.
Tweaks of the rules had been signaled with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen among the most vocal in saying the game needs to be easier to play, watch and referee, but the move to using two referees as is the case in the National Rugby League is a bold move.
NRL bosses introduced the concept in 2009 and some referees believe it will provide a major improvement in keeping ever creeping defensive players on side. They also believed getting rid of the imaginary “gate” through which players can legally enter the breakdown will make things easier for officials.
It remains unclear exactly what duties each of the on-field referees would have, but is assumed the secondary official would primarily be charged with policing the offside. In league there is a “lead ref” who does the bulk of officiating from the defensive side, though in international matches there is still only one on-field official.
Dual referees aside, the most drastic change to be trialed during New Zealand’s newly named Mitre 10 Cup will be at the tackle and ruck respectively.
Under current law a ruck is formed when one player from each team are on their feet, in physical contact, over the ball. The trial will see the word “ruck” replaced by “breakdown”, which would be formed when just one attacking player was over the ball on the ground. Once a breakdown is formed, no player from either side will be able to make a play for the ball with their hands, but in the absence of a “gate” would be able to enter the breakdown from any angle as long as they have come from an onside position.
That will see an end to the familiar call of “from the side” with the hope there are less penalties and less confusion about which players are legally trying to enter the most frequent phase of the game.
Essentially defenders will only be able to make a play for the ball if they swoop in, à la Wallabies loose forward David Pocock, before the first arriving attacker can turn the tackle into a breakdown.
Tackler’s rights will also be reduced from 360 degrees to 180 degrees, bunting the effectiveness of players like All Blacks openside Ritchie McCaw, who in his prime made an art form of stealing the ball in the same act as effecting a tackle. With the requirement to get back one metre before returning to the breakdown, tacklers will essentially have only one choice, which will be to roll away.
Law makers are hopeful defences will see opportunity in counter rucking in numbers as opposed to getting their hands on the ball, but coaches spoken to by Stuff believed the rule changes would favour the attacking side by making it difficult to effect a steal at the tackle with defences simply fanning out to form a defensive wall.
Similar dynamics were at play in in Super Rugby during the early 2000s when the Brumbies, under coach Eddie Jones, perfected the art of building pressure through holding the ball through countless phases in order to break down picket fence defensive lines.
There is potential for the new laws, but not the two referees, to be trialled in New Zealand’s premier club rugby grade in 2016. Provinces across the country are currently asking their clubs for feedback, although World Rugby would then have to sign off on any changes below the national provincial championship.
The drive for change has been driven by World Rugby who sought feedback from around the globe before ratifying the trials, which will not be restricted to New Zealand.
Hansen has been vocal about his desire to see changes to simplify the breakdown and create time and space for teams to attack, while Chiefs coach Dave Rennie took part in World Rugby’s review process in March this year as a member of a Laws Representation Group.
That group presented recommendations to World Rugby in October and following next year’s trials any approved changes would come into force in January 2017 in the southern hemisphere and in August that year for the northern hemisphere.
AT A GLANCE
Proposed World Rugby law changes:
1 Two on-field referees
2 Removal of the ‘gate’ entry at the breakdown
3 Tackler and arriving players can enter from midpoint of breakdown as long as they come from an onside position
4 Tackler no longer has 360 degree rights to the ball
5 Offside lines one metre behind hindmost foot at breakdown