Fans can expect to see more attacking play in the rebooted Super Rugby. Picture: Getty
Fans can expect to see more attacking play in the rebooted Super Rugby. Picture: Getty

World Rugby blindsided by ‘shameless’ NRL rip-off

WORLD Rugby officials aren't concerned Australia has borrowed from rugby league in submitting some of the law variations it intends to use in the rebooted Super Rugby AU competition because they weren't aware they were taken from the 13-a-side code.

Among the law variations put forward by Australia were for a line dropout if the attacking side are held up over the tryline, and also for a 50-20 rule, which is designed to encourage defending sides to drop their wingers out of the defensive line to cover for attacking kicks for touch, thereby creating more space for sides to spread the ball wide.

Both rules, which were approved on Monday night by World Rugby, are shameless "lifts" from rugby league.

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Yet at a time when some observers are calling for league to merge with rugby in this country, global rugby officials have such a low awareness of rugby league that most were unaware they were borrowing league laws. Indeed, most thought the law variations were a rugby invention.

"They have been pretty accepting of them being good ideas," said Brett Robinson, the former Wallabies backrower who is now Australia's representative on the World Rugby executive committee.

"They don't actually see a lot of rugby league, unfortunately, so they think those ideas are ours. Rugby is a massive global game. But it is just dwarfed by AFL and rugby league within Australia."

The popularity of the NRL and AFL dwarfs that of rugby union in Australia. Picture: Brett Costello
The popularity of the NRL and AFL dwarfs that of rugby union in Australia. Picture: Brett Costello

As basically the first sport anywhere in the world to come out of the COVID-19 lockdown, rugby league is acting as a trailblazer for rugby in a number of ways.

Robinson has been forwarding World Rugby the NRL's broadcast numbers as a guide to knowing what to expect when rugby gets up and running but in front of empty stadiums. He would, presumably, have been filing good news-bad news reports.

When the NRL first came out of shutdown, the Brisbane-Parramatta game attracted 952,000 spectators, record ratings as Nine blitzed its rivals with a 30.3 per cent share, well ahead of Seven (23.6 per cent) and Ten (22.1 per cent). But the numbers fell dramatically in the second week, with reports that only 619,000 tuned in for the corresponding match between Brisbane and Sydney Roosters.

"Still, it looks like the general acceptance is that what the broadcasters are doing is popular," Robinson said.

"People are enjoying having football back, so again for us in rugby that's a good sign."

We’re nearly there... Reds coach Brad Thorn oversees training ahead of the game’s return. Picture: AAP
We’re nearly there... Reds coach Brad Thorn oversees training ahead of the game’s return. Picture: AAP

Rugby Australia still does not have a confirmed broadcast deal for this season's competition but interim chief executive Rob Clarke believes a deal is close.

"We are making good progress there and would hope to be wrapped up in the next few days," Clarke said.

Robinson was fully behind English coach Eddie Jones's observation that Test rugby had moved down the track of becoming as stop-start as America's National Football League.

The ball-in-play statistic has hovered around 35 minutes for the whole of the professional era but what has climbed dramatically is the time the ball is out of play.

As Jones said, it is now common for a match to stretch to 110 minutes because of time wasting in scrums and lineouts, head injury assessments, TMO rulings and referees spending more time conferring with their assistants.

Scrums have become a major time-waster in rugby union. Picture: AAP
Scrums have become a major time-waster in rugby union. Picture: AAP

As a result, rugby has developed more and more into a power game, populated by huge men who, because of all the stoppages, are often able to complete the entire game.

Jones's solution is to reduce the number of reserves from eight to six. But while this would create more fatigue for players and would bring smaller men far more into their own, it would do nothing to curb time wasting.

To stop the game becoming more of a war of attrition on the gain line, Robinson believes the defence should be pushed back and then be rigorously enforced.

"I know there have been all sorts of trials about having the defensive line set a metre behind the last player's foot in the ruck," he said.

"We have even been pursuing whether technology could be more aggressive around managing the offside line.

"Laser beams, in other words. It's all the levers you can look at to use to create more space in the game - fatigue, managing the offside line, ball in play time. Giving forwards (too much) recovery time simply reinforces the power element."

Meanwhile, it seems unlikely World Cup discovery Jordan Petaia will be able to return for the Reds until at least the mid point in the 12-week Super Rugby AU competition. He is training again but only with the "rehab" group.

 

Rugby's 'unthinkable' ploy to slash costs and save game

By Julian Linden

The Waratahs and the Western Force could be playing double headers at ANZ Stadium as part of a radical plan to ensure Super Rugby hits the ground running when the revamped competition kicks off next month.

News Corp Australia can reveal that the left-field proposal - unthinkable just a few weeks ago when the code was battling to stay afloat - has been presented to broadcasters as a way to slash operating costs and maximise revenues.

The idea was quickly pulled together after the NSW State Government announced it would start allowing crowds at NRL matches, so it still has to be approved by Fox Sports but looms as a win-win for everyone.

The Tahs and the Force could be set to play a double-header.
The Tahs and the Force could be set to play a double-header.

The Western Force have already agreed to relocate to the east coast for the start of the competition until all the borders in Western Australia are reopened, and with the Sydney Football Stadium still under reconstruction, the Waratahs are still operating as nomads, playing matches all over the state.

NSW's four home matches in the new five-team domestic competition all have to be played close to Sydney airport so the visiting team can fly out on the same night of the game.

It's understood two of those four matches will be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground with the other two in the western suburbs.

Originally, the Waratahs would have played at Bankwest Stadium but the government's decision not to rebuild the Olympic Stadium has opened the possibility of bigger crowds and the bonus of double headers.

"We're not far off being locked and loaded but there's still a few moving pieces," NSW Rugby chief executive Paul Doorn said.

The Waratahs had anticipated playing their fixtures at BankWest Stadium. Picture: AAP
The Waratahs had anticipated playing their fixtures at BankWest Stadium. Picture: AAP

"Because we're a little bit behind the NRL, we've got to sort of fit in with their plans and the broadcasters have to approve it. But we think there is an opportunity to think strategically about this, because we're all about maximising the television product while minimising the costs.

"No one is more hopeful than the Super Rugby CEOs because we think it's really important to get the product on telly and we think it's really important to see our games being played."

Talks between Rugby Australia and Fox Sports about broadcasting the new competition are ongoing but the plan is to start on July 3, with the Waratahs starting away against the Reds and the ACT Brumbies hosting the Melbourne Rebels.

The draw has not been released but with the Waratahs away for the first round, they are almost certain to play their first home match in Sydney on July 10 or 11, possibly for the first double header.

"Everything at this stage is about scenario planning because no-one knows for certain what's going to happen but having fans thrown into the mix has clearly created another thing to think about," Doorn said.

The Tahs will face the Reds away first up.
The Tahs will face the Reds away first up.

"We've got the luxury of following the NRL and it's great to see them being so proactive, but we are also working very closely with NSW Health and the office of sport to understand what is possible.

"From our perspective, we like what we're hearing around the opportunity for some of the corporate spaces to be opened up, especially for our core sponsors who have been doing it tough during this time and also our members.

"If there is an opportunity to get some people in the stadiums we think that would be an amazing outcome considering where we all thought we were five, six weeks ago."

Playing at the SCG and ANZ might also magically turn around the Waratahs fortunes after they made a terrible start to the full Super Rugby season before it was called off.

The Waratahs are unbeaten at the SCG since they resumed playing there following the demolition of Allianz Stadium while ANZ Stadium was the site of their greatest success, when they beat the Crusaders to win the 2014 final.



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