Law changes that would make Super Rugby super again

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

A large part of Super Rugby's mandate in reducing the number of teams that will take part in next year's competition is making the overall structure easier to understand for the average fan.

The current format is both terribly confusing and overcomplicated and adjusting a system which rewards mediocrity with home quarter finals and allows the minor premier Lions to go an entire season without playing a single match against the strongest conference, will no doubt help.

But this does nothing to help improve an on field product that could be drastically improved by tweaking a handful of rules.

A more entertaining product, coupled with a competition format that is as easy to understand as AFL and NRL, would go a long way in putting Super Rugby back on the map of the everyday Australian.

So, what should be tweaked in order to achieve this?

Time off at scrums

Too much time is being wasted waiting for scrums to be set. Photo: Getty ImagesThis should be priority number one.

Rugby already has plenty of dead time - the ball is only in play for 44 percent of actual game time, according to 2015 Rugby World Cup analysis - and changing this would help chip away at that figure.

There are too many instances in which a game is brought to a screeching halt when a scrum is reset three times, killing any and all momentum that either team had.

As a fan, it is infuriating to watch your team trail by two points with three minutes to play, only to have the opposition conveniently lose their footing a couple of times, erode the time remaining and kick the ball into touch to seal victory.

Scrums are a crucial part of our game and this isn't by any stretch a move to demean their importance.

Rather, it is a shift which would allow a grandstand finish on a more consistent basis.

Which would you rather in the dying minutes that decide a Super Rugby final - ball in play, frenetic rugby which has everyone on the edge of their seats, or three minutes of reset scrums?

Penalty changes

Could Super Rugby incentivise long range penalty kicks? Photo: Getty ImagesThis may be a touch radical for some but bear with me.

Shots at goal are a way of turning pressure into points, that much is obvious.

But of all the shots at goal, which are the most enthralling?

Those that are taken beyond the halfway line.

Take Reece Hodge's shot at goal from 55 out against the Jaguares a fortnight ago.

Watching from the press box that night, there were a chain of emotions that followed in the minute after Nic Stirzaker pointed to the posts.

There was the initial excitement in seeing Stirzaker point to the posts, knowing Hodge was going to attempt a kick which is rarely seen in Australia and New Zealand.

Then there was the anticipation as he lined the shot up before striking the ball with that beautiful, lever like motion.

As the ball travelled through the air, the crowd was on the edge of their seats, eagerly assessing whether he had hit it clean enough to carry the full distance.

Then, the ball hit the cross bar and ricocheted over, inducing a cheer as loud as any on the night.

So, for a shot at goal that requires such a delicate balance of power and precision, why not award an extra point? 

Reduce regular penalties to two points but if a penalty is kicked from beyond halfway, reward the team with three points.

This would encourage teams to push for tries when camped in the opposition half while enticing the most exciting penalty shot of all.

TMO cap

Regular TMO interventions are hurting the flow of the game. Photo: Getty ImagesTMO intervention seems to be more prevalent than ever and while it hasn't yet escalated to the NRL level, where on field referees appear petrified to award a try unless it has been checked upstairs, there is still too much time spent repeatedly analysing the same angle.

To address this, there should be a 60 second cap on TMO decisions.

The referee typically sends tries upstairs with commentary as to whether he or she believes it is a try or no try and if a decision isn't obvious within 60 seconds, the on field decision should stand.

The benefit of the doubt should be with the attacking team, where a call is sent upstairs with no on field decision.

As a rule of thumb, the way the NRC uses the TMO, in which a decision can only be reviewed in try scoring situations, is best.

Foul play should not be encouraged but the TMO is being used to review said foul play far too often, again slowing the pace of the game.

In 12 televised NRC games last season, the TMO was used just 10 times.

That's the kind of pace the game needs.