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Greg Growden
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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
ESPNscrum exclusive
Australian rugby CEO to propose law changes
Greg Growden
May 7, 2013

Australian rugby is looking to introduce two radical law changes as part of a proposed second-tier competition to develop the next generation of Super Rugby players and Wallabies, Bill Pulver said in an exclusive interview with Greg Growden for ESPNscrum.

The proposal, to be aired by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive at an International Rugby Board (IRB) meeting in Dublin, is part of a strategy designed to develop "kids currently sitting in rugby academies in Brisbane and Sydney doing a lot of coaching and training, and actually putting them in a real-life developmental competition", Pulver told ESPNscrum before departing Australia for Europe.

"The main objective is to accelerate elite development so we win more games at a Super Rugby level," Pulver said, noting that Super Rugby coaches and chief executives all want greater depth of playing talent. "The secondary objective is to capture the hearts and minds of our rugby fans again with some exciting innovations, as well as filling the stadia again. The third objective is to find a component of the game, which can be packaged up for television."

Pulver says the concept will allow Australia's Super Rugby franchises each to expand their playing roster to "45 or 50" players, as has been requested by team coaches and management, and matches would be played as curtain raisers ahead of Super Rugby derby fixtures.

"What this would do is that you use the infrastructure of the Super Rugby franchises," Pulver told ESPNscrum. "The grounds are already paid for. They are actually paid for from 5pm, when you open the gates. So no more costs there. Most of the Super Rugby franchises have already got four coaches. And you'd only have two travel teams each week. Travel is probably going to be the most significant cost. Player payments will have to be managed carefully."

The radical part of Pulver's proposal is his concept of "a one-hour game of rugby" featuring two specific law changes "designed at creating a frenetic-paced game based around smart running rugby".

"You can't have a 40-10-40-minute footy game as a curtain raiser and expect people to turn up at 5pm. They won't. They never have. We want to create an environment, which on the one hand exposes young talent to the Australian rugby public; and maybe do that through a draft, so you distribute that talent around the franchises, but it also focuses its energies on displaying smart, creative rugby. It is a case of where we have listened to the complaints about stoppages, and the frustration of the game. So here's a unique brand of the game where we kick off at 6pm and be over by 7pm.

"In the ideal world I would love two rule changes, and I have to work through this with the IRB. It would be 25-minute halves, no penalty goals, and five-minute yellow cards for infringements in your own half. The yellow card will be a bit like water polo; the rule I love in water polo is that if you infringe when they are attacking your goal, you are out of the pool until they score. Great rule. Our equivalent would be, in a 25-minute game; an infringing player is off the field for five minutes or until the opposition scores."

Pulver says broadcast executives have shown "interest in it" as "we look to relaunch rugby" in Australia, but he does accept that his proposal has a number of obstacles to cross even apart from the IRB's involvement in the suggested law changes.

"The tricky bit is that you don't want to … kill Premier Rugby," Pulver said of Australia's club rugby scene. "So we are looking at positioning this at the front end of the Super Rugby competition and that it complements club rugby, while potentially linking into Sevens programs. Club rugby starts in April. We might defer club rugby, so that it starts in May - and have this development competition going through until May. Then the players would go to club rugby."

Pulver also accepts that "there must be a concern that if you are using this as a developmental process, what is the point of them playing a different game?"

"We are trying to satisfy multiple objectives here," he said. "The public is frustrated with stoppages in the game, so this is a very obvious attempt to show an effect to address that. It is also teaching the kids the skills required to play smart, creative rugby running. You'll have scrums, lineouts, and you are basically preparing them for Super Rugby, but there are a couple of compromises, which will add some excitement to the game."

Bill Pulver talked frankly to Greg Growden about a wide range of rugby topics. ESPNscrum will publish part two of our exclusive interview with the ARU chief executive this Thursday May 9.

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