O'Brien and Macqueen push rugby law changes
February 22, 2007
The brainchild of former Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen and former top New Zealand referee Paddy O'Brien could result in a shakeup of rugby's nightmarish laws next year.
Macqueen and O'Brien, now the International Rugby Board's (IRB) referees' manager, are in Sydney this week to explain the experimental law changes being introduced in Australia's new domestic competition this year.
Players in South Africa and Scotland are also trialling aspects of the proposed law changes which will be submitted to the IRB after this year's World Cup.
"We think the game is too complex for the average punter back home. We want a game which is simple for players, coaches, referees and spectators to understand," O'Brien said.
"There's something fundamentally wrong with our game when two people are watching a game, you're cheering for the Blue side and you think No 7 Red should be penalised, and your mate thinks No 7 Blue should be. In actual fact they both could be under the present laws."
Macqueen, renowned as one of rugby's most innovative thinkers, first approached O'Brien in Dublin to discuss his ideas.
The result was a group of former players, coaches and referees not currently involved in the game who took a blank canvas and looked to simplify the rules that mystify even the staunchest rugby expert.
The group included former Springboks coach Ian McIntosh and French rugby legend Pierre Villepreux.
Key changes include:
* at a scrum, the defending backline must be 5m behind the hindmost foot.
* anyone can play the ball at the breakdown, as long as they are on their feet and entered the ruck or maul from the hindmost foot.
* if the ball is unplayable at the breakdown, the team that didn't take the ball in receives a free kick.
* defending players can pull down a maul.
* the ball is deemed kicked out on the full if it's been passed back into the 22m line.
* a quick throw-in can be thrown anywhere except forward.
* neither team determines numbers in the lineout and there is no maximum number, only a minimum of two players per team.
Macqueen said early experiments of the laws at South Africa's Stellenbosch University meant more playing time, less scrums and more of a scrap for possession at the breakdown.
"The contest for possession is what makes rugby what it is," he said.
O'Brien said the tackled ball law was currently the most troublesome, and the group aimed to simplify that area and make it more a free-for-all.
"What we're saying is if Richie McCaw and George Smith are both on their feet, go for it and best man wins -- take that subjectivity out of the ref's call."
O'Brien stressed it wasn't certain the IRB would adopt all the laws at the two-yearly review which next falls after the World Cup later this year.
If they were passed, the earliest they would come in would be mid-2008 after being trialled in full.
Meanwhile, O'Brien plans to resubmit a proposal at the IRB meeting in April to broaden the powers of the video referee to check for potential infringements in the movement leading up to a try.
Currently a video ref can only rule on whether the ball was successfully grounded.
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