NRC law changes - are they working? - Green and Gold Rugby
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NRC law changes – are they working?

NRC law changes – are they working?

How are the NRC law variations and other changes working?

After four rounds, nearly halfway through the pool stages, it’s time to have a look.

It’s also worthwhile to consider what the prospect is for these changes being adopted by World Rugby at a higher level.

Nothing will be changed before the Rugby World Cup next year anyway, which means that the NRC can trial them for two seasons before they can be tested in a professional environment, most likely in 2016 Super Rugby.

Scoring changes

In the NRC penalty goals and drop goals are valued at two points (instead of three); conversions are three points (two).

Changing the scoring system in some way was the number one request from the public when an NRC panel asked for ideas. It sounded like a no-brainer so that more tries would be scored and fewer penalties attempted.

How’s it working?  If more tries  was the aim, it worked a treat: penalty shots have been like silent halfbacks: rare.  In Round 3, for example, there were only four penalty goals attempted—one per match.  In Round 4 none were attempted.

Mind you, the score was 2-2 at one stage in a game at Coogee Oval, when the ball and ground was so wet the teams had trouble scoring tries.

At first there was too much hot-potato off-loading trying to get the ball wide to score tries, rather than trucking it up to earn the right to do so first. There was some white-line fever from 40 metres out also—but all this moderated over four rounds.

After four rounds, 141 tries were scored in the 16 games—an average of nearly nine per match.  Competition leaders Melbourne Rising were averaging eight per game by themselves.

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Leichhardt scoreboard – 3 points for conversions

Will this go further?   No.

If most Aussies had their way it would, because it encouraged high tempo rugby and stopped the time wasting from kicking penalty goals. In the future it would help to increase Super Rugby crowds also.

But a few naysayers thought, even after enjoying NRC games, that there was no need to change a scoring system that was already nicely balanced.

Their arguments in our forums against the scoring changes included:

• The fabric of the game was affected.

• If high-tempo rugby and more tries were wanted they could be attained with the scoring system as it was if players and teams were good enough; and if they weren’t, they should be trained to become so.

• Although there hadn’t been too much cynical play defending at the goal line in the NRC, there would be in professional rugby, right? Pro teams would give up two points to save eight, because referees were always too shy giving out yellow cards, weren’t they?

• The powers-that-be in the northern hemisphere, where rugby is played in bad conditions two months of the year, and sometimes three, wouldn’t be interested in approving changes that encouraged racehorse rugby, would they? There were too many draught horses in their player stables for starters. The French would hate it: they loved their grinding rugby.

• So, why develop players in a false environment?

Bonus points for tries

Instead of getting a try bonus point after scoring four tries, teams have to score three more tries than their opponents do to get one.

This means that only one team can get a bonus point for tries in a game; so it rewards defence more than the standard system does.

In 2010 the Chiefs beat the Lions 72-65 in the Super 14 with the sides scoring nine tries each—and the Lions got two bonus points. Both teams should have been docked a point for crap defence.

How’s it working?  OK – because nobody is talking about it. Maybe that’s one to look at near the end of the competition.

Will this go further?  There’s a good chance that it will, but the Poms may not like it simply because the French have had the system for years. There’s history there.

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The TMO could have been asked about this one

TMO protocol

The TMO protocol was changed back to how it was.

Amen. I was the first to applaud the new system in 2013 to rule on, for example, forward passes when a try was scored, because I had seen it work in the Top 14. People said that it would slow the game down but I replied that no, it wouldn’t, because you scarcely knew the protocol was in operation in France because it was used sparingly.

How wrong was I?

What happened? Once the TMO protocol was changed referees around the world over-used it and there was an outbreak of conservatism as referees tried to out-TMO the others. Even the French referees escalated their use of the TMO in the Top 14 because the rest of the world was doing so.

Wayne Barnes and a few others started making their own TMO decisions based on what they saw on the big screen to speed things up, which made everybody happy except the people selling beer at the ground.

How’s it working?  Great in the TV games—as expected. At least the change in 2013 demonstrated how dud it was in practice; never to return.

Will this go further? Certainly—the clubs in the Aviva Premiership hate the present system and that is always a good sign that a change will be accepted.

Moreover I noticed that in Round 1 of the Aviva Premiership that the referees weren’t using the TMO in regard to how the ball was coming out of the hands in try-scoring movements, which was dumb from day one; so they will be conditioned to change the protocol back to how it was.

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Contested NRC lineout – but was it straight?

Not straight throws

Skew throws to the lineout that aren’t contested near where the ball is thrown to, are ignored in the NRC provided they are credible throws: not to the outside shoulder, or worse.

Once the proposed variations were put before the public this was voted number one.

How’s it working?  Great. I suspect that defending teams are opposing more now so that the throwing teams don’t get a leg up.

Will this go further?  It has a good shot after the northerners try it out first.

There were a few underarm throws in the NRC straight to the belly of first man in the front of the lineout; which gave the front defender no time to contest. This won’t go down well north of the equator nor in the RSA.

Some folks will say that lineout throwing is a skill that shouldn’t be corrupted: look what’s happened in the NRC—they turned an openside flanker (Lala Lam) into a hooker, for crying out loud. And by the way: that is another chance for the sneaky Aussies to dodge a scrum, the cunning bastards.

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  • Tahs_Man_Fan

    Great article Lee, as always!! The biggest thing I’ve noticed about the NRC is the pace of the games. I think fitness should never be under rated, and this will certainly raise the level amongst these players. But I can’t help but think that the new laws diminish the importance of the set piece. Because penalties are given out so frequently, quick taps seem to be the norm. But that isn’t doing anything to develop Australia’s already thin prop stocks. As you said yourself, we have a number 7 playing hooker in Lala Lam!!!

    • Tree

      Late on this one but here goes. It is honestly doing the exact opposite for the set pièce. The dark arts of mauling and scrum havw become invaluable. We played Brisbane city last weekend and they had what would have been 3 kickable penalties in their 22. They instead used their scrum and off the back of a dominant scrum scored 3 tries. Likewise we had 2 penalties for kickable areas, took the lineout and mauled 2 tries. Our maul and maul defence and scrum and scrum defence will improve I guarantee. They are weapons and are being used as such in this comp.

      • Tree

        Ps… Ole Avei rated the best hooker in the top 14 three years running started as a 7 and only changed at 22 years of age once at the Reds.

  • Pedro

    Great comprehensive assessment Lee.

    I think the rules which were designed to see more tries have achieved their goal. They have done so despite many matches being played in very wet conditions, I imagine a the season wears on there will be even more running rugby.

  • Guy

    Thanks for starting the conversation (although probably exhausted in the forum section by those of you seemingly without a job)…

    Not sure about the 3 point conversion yet. This seems to be overkill. It might have been nice to see what happened with the baby steps approach and just knocked back the penalties/FG’s to 2 for the first season

    I have seen plenty of examples of the tap kick rule working. I don’t think that it diminishes the set piece, rather, it will reinforce players will need to consider their role/field position at all times.

    Keeping out of the pocket is a great rule. Scrum is won, lets let the set piece roll-out. Although the obvious change should see defending scrummies simply taking up tackling positions in the backline. This may or may not add to the set piece fun

    Scrum clock is ridiculous. It hasn’t been watched once. They all go over. But I didn’t see the point in this anyway, as you say Lee, just stop the freakin’ clock. I don’t mind letting the fatties catch a breath anyway

    • Lee Grant

      Stopping the clock seems revolutionary but it’s already done when the officials take time out.

      100 years from now rugby heads will think how quaint the laws were in these times as we would about the laws 100 years ago.

      The NFL has introduced many time clock innovations since the dark ages of their sport. The clock doesn’t run during the PAT (conversion) attempt and play doesn’t restart until the next kick-off, or more exactly, until the first player from either side touches the ball legally after the kick-off.

      You could see the case in rugby where the clock stops when the try is scored and doesn’t start ticking again until the restart kick. Conversions take up to 7-8 minutes of the 80 in the average game and that provision would provide an immediate benefit, although half of the gain would itself be corrupted..

      You would still need to stop the players lingering over conversions so that the elapsed time does not blow out and the side that lacks fitness gets a benefit. The team restarting should have a time limit for dropping out from halfway, after the conversion kick is made, also.

      In other words: the clock should be used to increase ball-in-play time and also to cut down on ball-not-in-play time.

      The conversion matter would be the easiest one to handle, in hindsight. The next thing is to stop the clock if a reset is needed and not start it again until the ball emerges (because the time taken up to then has already been charged) or a penalty or free kick is given..

      It’s worth thinking about (outside of amateur rugby) although it would need some “outside of the box” thinking and no throwing hands up in the air and saying it won’t work .

      It needs a leap of faith.
      .

      • Guy

        2nd scrum stoppage sounds wise… the scrum is after all part of the game!
        amateur rugby need not have the rule change also. Changes to rules in basketball gradually force more in play time and restrictions as the level increases, from social comp where the clock stops for nothing (not even time outs), to where the NBA is fully timed (stopped when not in play) throughout

  • The illusion

    A friend of mine was speaking to Angus Gardener during the week who said that there was an average of 29 penalties in an NRC game (as compared to 12 given by the Wallabies v Boks a fortnight ago) and by extension more yellow cards given away as players don’t mind giving away penalties as it less likely to lead for a shot at goal. As running rugby in the backs is all well and good, is this a concern for our players developing a bad habit as they move into Shute Shield and Super Rugby competition?

    • Lee Grant

      So long as there is an overall link between penalties and cards given it is not so bad.

      What is bad is double the penalties an not double the cards.

      The warning procedures and actions after them have to be tighter than in games using standard scoring.

      Having seen 15 of the 16 games I get the feeling that the issuing of yellow cards should be escalated and be even too harsh.

      It worked in the 2007 Shute Shield a treat and in the second half of the season (it took a while) the players were like choir boys.
      ..

      • Adam

        Is this going to train our players correctly? We know the All Blacks are masters of stretching the law with our boys usually just looking on, pointing it out to the referee or slapping them on the back. I would argue that our guys need to learn how to play the game on the edge of the laws and have the other team expect this and have a counter-plan read even before nonsense like this happens.

        • Lee Grant

          Our fellows are like babes in the woods compared to them: they are more rugby smart and this is just one facet of rugby that they are better at.

          I never criticise them too much when I spot them get away with stuff. Part of it is that I realise that I am looking more at them than at our team in that regard, and the other thing is that if they are being treated generously and not being pinged, I am more inclined to wonder why our fellows can’t do the same.

          Fardy used to be brilliant at it but he has lost form: the crap he got away with on the last EOYT was breath-taking. Now he is a bit of a clown. And Rob Simmons had the interest in pushing the envelope but never the subtlety to succeed – or maybe he’s just too clumsy at it.

          He behaved himself in the last test, if I recall correctly; so maybe he has been spoken to. “If you are’nt good at it son: you shouldn’t do it – it’s like being a bank robber.”

          Even Hooper, who is a natural, is getting pinged too often.

          We have lost Mowen, our best practitioner, but even he was shaky before he left to go overseas.
          .

  • Nathan

    Its really essential we get the rule in to stop the clock for scrums. This was one my mate’s main criticism of Rugby when he watched the Bledisloe. He played a few seasons of Rugby, but his family are from a AFL/Soccer background with a little bit of league too. His opinion is important to me in terms of general fan engagement because he really is an outsider to the game in terms of watching Super Rugby and the Wallabies. He is far more engaged with the AFL and playing soccer so I believe the scrums are at the forefront of the “general public’s” mind when it comes to time with ball in play.

  • Hawko

    The new rule on three points for a conversion doesn’t seem to have caught on at all. The number of players doing swan dives and making no effort to run round under the sticks might even have increased. And we are supposed to be the thinking man’s sport?

  • Gam’n
National Rugby Championship

Voted most valuable member of the G&GR Forum since records began - Ed.

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