New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship will trial a number of new breakdown laws.
At the turn of the year, World Rugby announced that a number of law trails would be implemented at the beginning of the new World Cup cycle.
Although some variations such as the alternative scoring system were introduced in Wales last September, the majority of the law variations came into being this year.
Nevertheless, some of the most controversial law trails are being conducted in New Zealand, where rugby’s law makers hoped to make changes to breakdown and the offside line.
Along with the alternative scoring system, World Rugby hoped to also trial a law that would see changes made to the offside line at ruck time, whereby players would have to retreat to one meter behind hindmost foot at the breakdown.
However after the coaches of New Zealand’s 14 provincial sides met last March to discuss the proposed changes, according to kiwi news site Stuff, both the above law variations were jettisoned.
Nevertheless, they chose to retain two law trials that would change the definition of the breakdown. Under the proposed interpretation, a ruck will be formed after a player from the attacking team supports the player on the ground.
Once the attacking player is in position, neither side will be able to use their hands in the ruck, whether they are on their feet or not.
The second change will allow players enter the ruck from any angle, as long as they do so from their side of the midpoint of the breakdown.
While these changes are designed to foster attacking rugby, they have created a number of issues during pre-season friendlies.
After defending NPC Champions, Canterbury, suffered a 43-14 loss at the hands of Wellington in their final warm up game, their coach, Scott Brown, identified the new laws as a contributing factor in their defeat.
We were stung heavily by the rules. The errors were what you normally make an error from, it’s a guy putting his hands past someone in the breakdown.
Instinctively it’s not quite there for us. We worked hard during the week and we played OK last week [against Otago] but this week the interpretations … the ref was a little bit different.
Although Wellington coach, Earl Va’a, argued that while the law changes will make the game more exciting, he also told Stuff players cannot afford to lose their footing at ruck time.
This is our third crack at it, we’re learning even today from a different referee. The main is you can’t afford to lose your feet and got to ground now.
It’s a faster game, a lot more exciting for the spectators as well apart from when they get five metres out and the forwards put us to sleep with pick and go’s.
While it will be interesting to see how the trials will affect the rugby on display in the Mitre 10 Cup, the role of the poacher could be reduced, as laws make have made it far more difficult to win turnovers at the breakdown.
In turn, this could bring rugby union far closer to league than ever before, as the contest for possession on the ground would have been lessened.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena