Cape Town - Super Rugby returns in 2013, but while it will still be as long and intense, filled with drama and passion, the format will have a slightly different tinge this year.
Final draw for the 2013 Super Rugby season
According to the supersport.com website, with Australian sides kicking off a week earlier than the rest, thanks to their money-spinning British and Irish Lions tour, the 18th year of Super Rugby will start in two spurts - in Australia on February 15, and for the rest a week later.
With so many changes to the laws, SANZAR announced on Thursday that the half-time break was extended from 10 to 12 minutes, adding more time for analysis and commercial opportunities for broadcasters during games.
But one law that won’t be implemented is the 23-man squad - whereby teams need to have a full front row on the bench, with SANZAR holding off while the IRB completes trials in other competitions.
Still, there are some significant changes to the laws, including the three-call scrum that will be implemented for the first time, a change to the quick lineout throw in law and most significantly, the five-second rule to clear a ruck that was so successful in New Zealand’s ITM Cup when trialled late last year.
The scrum call - which changes the call from “Crouch, touch, pause, engage” to “Crouch, set, engage” has been relatively successful when implemented in the northern hemisphere and is to help with safety more than anything else.
With regards to quick throw ins, the amendment to the law says “the player may be anywhere outside the field of play between the line of touch and the player’s goal line.”
“When the ball goes into touch from a knock-on, the non-offending team will be offered the choice of a lineout at the point the ball crossed the touchline or a scrum at the place of the knock-on. The non-offending team may take a quick throw-in.”
But the most significant change will be the five-second law at ruck time, meant to cut down on structured kicking and to ensure the ball is utilised more quickly.
A scrumhalf has five seconds to clear the ball from the base of the ruck before the referee calls “use it”. If he doesn’t, the ref will award a scrum to the opposing team, much like a maul that is held up.
According to SANZAR’s head of referees, Lyndon Bray, the changes are a positive move to make the game more entertaining.
“The changes are a very positive set of changes in the interests of the game,” Bray said, “They help promote both attack options and improved outcomes for the game.
“It is now up to the referees at their January camp and the teams to ensure they work on making these changes work. We are keen within Super Rugby to make further improvements to the scrum as well.”
The first round of Super Rugby kicks off on February 15 with the Australian derbies, with the Rebels hosting the Force and the Brumbies hosting the Reds.
South Africa and New Zealand kick off their tournaments a week later, with two mouth-watering local derbies starting the long season. On Friday, February 22 (19:10) the Bulls host the Stormers, while the Cheetahs host the Sharks on Saturday, February 23 (17:05).
The new team in the competition, the Kings, host the Force on Saturday, February 23 in the late game (19:10).