Coaches' tactical response to NRC law variations to be interesting: Scrivener

by Emma Greenwood

NRC coaches say they'll be as interested as anyone to see how teams respond tactically to law variations that will be trialled in the competition this season.

The competition will be used to trial two law variations for World Rugby - a 50:22 kick, which would see a team given the lineout throw if they kick a ball from their half and find touch in their rivals’ quarter; and a goal-line dropout awarded to the defending team holding their rivals up over the try-line.

Speaking after the release of the NRC schedule on Wednesday, Canberra Vikings coach Nick Scrivener has welcomed the two variations, although with most teams assembling their squads only a week or two out from the competition after the completion of club rugby, there will be little time to develop and practice tactics to take advantage of the trial.

"I don't mind having law variation trials, I think that's how the game grows and the NRC is probably a good platform for that to happen as long as they're not too wide-ranging and don't actually change the game too much," Scrivener said.

"It's interesting tactically, we haven't really sat down and had a really good think about it yet.

"I guess what they're trying to do is manipulate the defences a bit more and possibly reward kicking or … reduce what's pretty common in rugby now, which is 13 or 14 people up in a defensive line which stymies the attack a bit.

"It'll be interesting whether teams try and take advantage of that and take a risk. I think it'll just be a bit of suck it and see and manipulate things on the run."

Similar to rugby league’s 40-20 rule, rugby's 50:22 variation is designed to create more space for more attacking play out wide, by forcing defending teams to drop wingers back.

Irae Simone kicks for the Vikings against Queensland Country last season. A 50:22 kick could now earn his team the lineout throw. Photo: Getty Images

The second law trial is designed to reward teams for good defence when they hold their rivals up over the try-line.

Currently the attacking team gets a five-metre scrum but in the NRC, the defending team will get a goal-line drop out and be able to relieve pressure.

"I'll be really interested to see how teams execute tactics around it," said Scrivener, whose Vikings made the NRC semis last year before bowing out to eventual champions the Drua in Fiji.

"The maul held up over the line, that'll obviously affect rolling mauls and teams that are very good mauling teams have to make sure that they put it over the line.

"And then there's all sorts of tactical things around the drop out. Do you practice getting the ball back from that and risk turning it over close to your own tryline?"

The 40-20 rule has been in operation in rugby league for more than 20 years now.

"It definitely can be a game-changer, particularly if the clock's ticking and you need the ball back it becomes quite crucial and rewards teams with good kickers," Scrivener said of how the rule had changed the rival code.

"The good players will spot space in the back field regardless of whether there's a rule there or not, they'll probably kick anyway.

Vikings coach Nick Scriviner says teams looking to pick and drive or use a rolling maul will have to make sure they plant the ball over the line with the defence now rewarded for holding a player up. Photo: Getty Images

"But I just think getting the ball back, those back three players are really going to have to watch what's happening and not switch off.

"It's just whether the players have the skill to be able to execute a kick like that.

"There's also set piece. If you get a scrum in the middle of the field and you're kicking from behind the 50m line, that's going to be a big tactic where the halfback can get out and kick.

"That's a situation where defences are normally set, so that will be quite difficult to defend against a good kicker. There's all sorts of things in play."

Scrivener said testing either rule variation in a game would come down to a "risk-reward scenario"

"I'd suggest when you're chasing a game and need possession … teams could say, we're going to actually try to do this and get the ball back," he said.

"As long as it doesn't change the fabric of the game.

"These are just to introduce a bit more tactical thinking in the game without changing too much of it.

"And there's not that much lead-in time with any of the teams to get that competent at manipulating any of these variations."

While both rules are designed to reward running rugby, Scrivener said that was already the nature of the NRC.

"To be honest, for example, the 50-22 rule, I don't think it's going to happen that much in a game anyway," he said.

"There's not that many scenarios where you can set it up to do that. It might happen once or twice in a game - there might be one or two attempts - but I don't think it's going to changes things dramatically.

"The comp is pretty free-flowing anyway. You've got inflated scores all over the place because everyone's just trying to play footy without the pressures of a Test or a Super Rugby game.

"So the competition lends itself to attacking rugby. I don't think they need to bring in too much to do that, I think it's more of a World Rugby thing to have a look at the game.

"But I think putting it into this game is good because it's a platform and there's a window of time here where they can trial it."

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