Examining the laws of the NRC - Green and Gold Rugby
National Rugby Championship

Examining the laws of the NRC

Examining the laws of the NRC

We are just days out from the first round, and it’s fair to say that there seems to be a bit more attention around the NRC than in previous years. While that may be in part due to fans trying to look for anything to watch other than the Wallabies, it is also difficult to deny the anticipation that comes when the squads are looking stronger, the franchises are better organised and there is a bit more of an air of excitement around what will happen come Saturday, when the first game kicks off in the West.

In 2014 the competition was introduced with new laws, different point systems and nine teams. Now it is one of the most exciting things in Australian rugby (especially given our dismal performances in Super Rugby and national level). The best of club rugby, combined with Super Rugby. The reason for that is due to the big changes in the law book that have led to a faster, more attacking style of rugby.

It may surprise you, but the competition has been more far reaching than many realise. Highlighted as a great example of furthering future laws of the game by the World Rugby governing body, many laws trialled in the NRC have gone on to be adopted at Super Rugby and at Rugby Championship levels, including:

  • Bonus points being awarded to teams who score three or more tries ahead of their opponent.
  • Teams being awarded a penalty after time has expired will be able to opt for a lineout
  • Kickers having just 60 seconds to take their shot from the time a try has been scored or a penalty given, and 45 seconds for a penalty kick.
  • Not straight lineout throws are left alone if the opposing team doesn’t contest.

This experiment of trying new laws has paid off big time. World Rugby want more tries scored and a faster game. Quite frankly, as fans, we do too! And while many may criticize this style as only allowing the backs to shine, the NRC has shown that if you don’t have a dynamic, hard working forward pack – you don’t win games.

vikings v rays NRC  564_DSC_0343_2015_09_25_41108

A powerful pack will always be crucial.

So with the season only a few days away, it seems like an opportune time to remind ourselves of some of the noticeable law changes (apart from the ones mentioned above), and why it does much to improve the game:

Value of a Try:

  • Try: 6 points. Conversion: 2 points. Penalty Goal: 2 points. Drop Goal: 2 points

This rule has been changed for the 2016 season, and it’s the one that seems to be turning a lot of heads. Previously, the NRC had five points for tries, three points for conversions, and two points for penalties and drop goals. This worked brilliantly, as there was an emphasis placed on the need to convert your tries. Considering how Australia seems to have a torrid record of having good kickers lately, it is something we definitely need to continue to value. The worth of the conversion couldn’t be summed up more than the game last year between Melbourne Rising and the Western Sydney Rams, where the Rams went down 36-37 despite scoring six tries to five. The reason? Missed conversions.

Now, with this law being the only change this season, it makes me speculate on its potential impact to the game. While I am all for running rugby, the previous scoring system worked really well. I have a slight worry that 6-2-2-2 may reduce the importance of converting tries and kicking in the game. And that is something we in Australia especially should be promoting. Also, six-point tries may also put the focus less on running rugby and more other on facets in the game such as mauls.

This rule is also being trialled in the NZ Heartland Championship this year too, so watch this space. But hey, when the wider rule changes were introduced in 2014 we were sceptical then, so this may work out just fine.

Scrum rules

Qld Country v NSW Country_140830_Sully_779

Scrum quickly – but scrum strongly!

  • Team has 30 seconds to form a scrum from the time the referee gives the mark.
  • Opposing scrum half is not allowed to enter the gap between the flanker and number 8, even if they stay behind the ball

Scrums are one of the underrated success stories of the NRC. One of the most frustrating parts of any game, both when you’re playing and when you’re watching, is when scrums have to be reset. In the current law book, there must be no delay when forming the scrum, meaning that teams can be penalised for intentional delaying. While this law is needed, this has often led to scrums being repeatedly reset. But allowing thirty seconds not only builds anticipation for the scrum, but it is also safer for the players, allows to scrum to be carried out safely, and has resulted is less resets.

The second major scrum law is one I cannot agree with more strongly. In the current law, the scrum half is able to compete for the ball at the end of the scrum, as long as they stay behind the ball. The NRC laws makes it much more difficult to do that, especially for the attacking scrum. From personal experience, nothing is more frustrating than winning a scrum, then having an annoying little opposition scrum half interfere with our scrum half getting the ball out to the backs. It only made us want to smash the little bugger more! Make the scrum ABOUT THE SCRUM, and keep the game moving!

General Play

Photo Credit: Sully

What a try! What a game! And what a brilliant photo! (Photo Credit: Sully)

  • Players will be allowed to take quick throw-ins regardless of whether someone else has touched the ball
  • Television match official to only be consulted about tries and in-goal plays.
  • Increased latitude will be given to where penalty and free kicks are to be taken

The general play rule changes make for a really exciting game, and this is the innovative backbone of law changes that the NRC has become known for. The changes with scrums and set piece means that the ball is in play for much longer (over 35 minutes per game on average, compared to Super Rugby with 32 minutes), and rules like quick throw ins (which have also been adopted at higher levels) not only keeps the game moving, and gives us moments like Liam Gill’s legendary NFL throw last year in the QLD derby.

Also, the usage of TMOs is one that further speeds the game up. So often, such as in the NRL, the TMO is consulted for any single tussle or event in the field, and even more so when a team has scored. While it helps the referees manage the game, from a viewer perspective it’s a complete mood killer. Having it only focused for when it matters in the context of a game (i.e. try or no try) speeds it up a lot more, and also is good for the referees, to make them less reliant on technology to do their job.

The changing of the law book is one of the great things about this competition. It has opened it up to brilliant attacking rugby. Last year Andrew Kellaway and Jono Lance made no secret of their enjoyment of the format. Many super rugby players have mentioned that the speed and ferocity of the game is on the same level as to that of Super rugby levels. That can only be beneficial to the club players coming through with aspirations of wearing green and gold.

The laws and product are great, so go and see some games! I cannot stress it enough! It’s much better than the abysmal, going-through-the-motions performance the Wallabies put in on Saturday, and at a fraction of the cost of a $170 ticket. High speed rugby and excitement in the NRC (with a taster of the two best teams last year below), sure sounds a lot better than the endless painful slog that are Wallaby test matches at the moment. Get excited, and get out there #ForTheGame.


  • Pedro

    Sweet, i was hoping someone would explain any new laws coming in. Great read.

    It will be interesting to see how six point tries go. I imagine there will be more tense finishes as points will rack up quickly and teams will be obliged to pile on the points to ever be comfortable.

    • brumby runner

      Why not just halve the value of tries and goals to 3, 1, 1, 1? Same result but game scores would align more to the traditional totals rather than the current situation where scores are often in excess of 50.

      On the whole, I am not a fan of the new scoring regime as it becomes impossible for a goal kick at the end to win the game. Best result for a side trailing by 2 with a penalty in front on the 80th minute is a draw if the goal attempt is successful. Perhaps though, in that circumstance, the trailing side will persist with play, opting for a scrum or kick to line, and general play will continue on for several minutes which could also be a good outcome.

      • Pedro

        Good point about the only even scoring increments, hadn’t thought of that.

        Maybe they should introduce drop goal conversions/penalties are worth three. That would reward central field position scoring and make come from behind game winning kicks possible.

    • Simon

      Someone on the forum pointed out that when they did this in Welsh club rugby it just turned into a maul fest because there’s now little incentive to go for the conversion. Hope that doesn’t happen here. I thought the 5-3 rule did well in that regard.

      • Assistant TMO

        Good point Simon, but when that happened in Welsh Club Rugby the refereeing of the maul was weak and several tactics/illegalities were tolerated (globally, not just in Wales!). In the last 12 months refereeing of this aspect was changed (and Pocock’s tries dried up!). Certainly in Super Rugby the incidence of maul tries appeared to be less in 2016 and a better balance for the defence to actually stop them.

        I would advocate a law change to reducing the 2 stops to just 1 and then “use it”. Better opportunity for the defence to commit to stop rather than feeling obliged to drag it down. Caveat though, only to apply once it has crossed the gain/maul formation line (i.e. to stop the defensive drive off the line out maul being an immediate use it)

        • Kit Walker

          I’ve long held the view that the points should be 6 for a try, 1 for a conversion and 3 for penalties and drop goals.

          This removes the situation we have currently where two penalties are worth more than an unconverted try. It still leaves emphasis on goal kicking however as that one point could be vital.

  • BadAtCricket

    I think the scrum laws are global changes, not just NRC

    • Nicholas Wasiliev

      These are the existing laws of the game:

      Law 20.1(d)
      No delay. A team must not intentionally delay forming a scrum.

      NRC: Team has 30 seconds to form a scrum from the time the referee gives the mark.

      Law 20.12(c)
      When a team has won the ball in a scrum, the scrum half of the opposing team is offside if that scrum half steps in front of the ball with either foot while the ball is still in the scrum.

      NRC: Opposing scrum half is not allowed to enter the gap between the flanker and number 8, even if they stay behind the ball.

      I see where you are coming from with the laws. The scrum can be quite confusing in terms of rules, and tough to manage in terms of seeing which teams are offside. The NRC rules are extremely close to the existing rules, but they aim to define the boundary a bit more. Also, it allows the scrum to be set up a lot easier, and taking the thirty seconds often results in less resets. It is a real tough one to examine, but judging on the NRC scrums, these very slight changes seems to be working.

      • Assistant TMO

        Scrum law changes were World Rugby changes and clarifications for 2016. Australian community rugby has played them all year.

      • BadAtCricket

        I think you need a new copy of the Law Book :)

  • harro

    Thanks for the write up. I’m excited for the season to kick off (and excited for the next Wallabies match too)

    I’m a bit sceptical of the change in point values, for the exact reasons you outline. Was this a change in repsonse to a problem they saw with the system last year, or a change for changes sake?

    • Nicholas Wasiliev

      A great question harro. And one that I don’t directly know the answer to. As an educated guess, the reason for the reduction may be to encourage more tries, and to reward a team more for going for the try. From an entertainment perspective, it theoretically works, but as someone in the forum pointed out, this point system was trialled by the Welsh Rugby Union and it led to a focus on mauls, and was less enjoyable to watch. I’m curious to see how it goes here and in NZ, as southern hemisphere teams have generally played a faster game.
      Additionally, the change may have occurred because some may feel that the 3pt conversion was overvalued, but in my opinion it placed more of a value on kicking.

  • Simon

    I’m all for the quick throw-ins when the nearest opposition is still 20+ metres downfield, but I really do think the law needs to be properly defined and enforced so that when an opposition player is standing in a lineout position, the quick throw is not allowed. The Kiwi sides really made a mockery of the spirit of the quick throw law this season in Super Rugby, often there would be a couple of opposition players standing right there in front of the guy with the ball, and he’d do a quick throw over their heads to a team mate and ref would let it go.

    As soon as an opposition player is within the lineout zone, it should be a lineout. The thrower’s team shouldn’t be able to keep their quick throw options open by just refusing to line up. My understanding of the law when the quick throw was introduced was that all it required was one opposition player to be lining up, but that’s definitely NOT how it was policed this year.

    • Shannon McLachlan

      A quick throw cant be taken once a lineout has been formed… for a lineout to be formed you need at least two players from EACH team.

      • Lindommer

        So the team throwing in can delay the forming of a lineout allowing for a quick lineout elsewhere. One of the many flaws in the current laws. Simon’s suggestion the non-throwing team define the timing of the formation of a lineout is an excellent one.

      • Simon

        Thanks for the clarification. Definitely needs to be changed to stop the throwing team refusing to line up to avoid the lineout IMO.

        • Assistant TMO

          Simon/Lindommer, Dont ever complain about a slow phase of the game again. You’re both advocating for slowing the game down and at least 30 seconds of dead ball time for a line out.

          The non-throwing team has every opportunity to prevent the quick throw by marking the open players rather than what they usually do by marking the throw in (generally illegally within the 5m).

          Surely we want the behavioural aspect of the law to be for the kicking team to not kick it out in the first place…. in which case increasing the options and ability to restart play for the throwing in team is an excellent decision.

        • Simon

          I don’t think speeding up the game should come at the expense of fairness. I’m quite happy to slow the game down for 30 seconds for a lineout when the players are close enough to contest. In my opinion the quick throw is for instances when the ball is 30m down field, and the defensive winger gets it without an opposition player in coo-ee.

          Also, the receiving team still has the incentive to take a quick throw, they just don’t have the incentive to all shuffle around, not committing to the lineout, until an unmarked player opens up. If they want to take the quick throw, they need to do it, as the name suggests, QUICKLY! Before the opposition gets there.

  • 22metri

    good point on the importance of kicking. We all like seeing tries but kicking is still a big part of the game, especially when you go up to SR or international level.

  • Ev

    Interesting that there’s no changes to the ruck rules (as in the Mitte 10 cup). I applaud what they’re trying to do but not sure the current changes there are working

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Die-hard Brumbies/Country Eagles fan now based in Sydney. Author, anthropologist, musician, second rower. Still trying to make sense of the 21st century. Dropped a debut novel last year...

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