Maties showed everyone how to make effective use of the Varsity Cup’s controversial new ‘power play’ in their clash against UJ on Monday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Varsity Cup organisers received a fierce backlash after announcing in early-December that they would be introducing a power play that many critics labelled as an unnecessary gimmick. The experiment allows for captains to be able to remove any two nominated backline players from the opposition for three minutes of playing time.
Although the Varsity Cup has always been at the forefront of innovation and the promotion of positive play, the idea of a power play that removes players from action was seen as a step too far.
Understandably, a common criticism was that top performing players could now essentially be punished when they become a target in the power play, while other critics suspected that the goal-kicker could be an obvious candidate to be sent from the field.
However, those behind the latest law change have suggested it will equip teams to defend with fewer players, while encouraging the side enforcing the power play to think differently, and add a clinical edge to their attack.
Whichever way you look at it, the latest controversial change meant that the power play was always going to be one of the chief talking points on the first Monday of the new Varsity Cup season.
The two televised games saw Tuks take on the Shimlas, while UJ hosted Maties, and yet as it turned out, it was only the Stellenbosch side that really took full advantage.
One of the stipulations of the power play is that it can only be called by a team while in their own half, and Maties interestingly opted to make use of it midway through the first half.
Leading 5-3 at the time, they asked for the UJ flyhalf and fullback to leave the field, and in their absence, Maties flyhalf Chris Smith chipped over the defence for Duncan Saal to score.
It was the perfect exploitation of space, and exposed the fact that UJ had no fullback to provide cover. The converted seven-point try also enabled Maties to establish a handy early buffer.
When UJ chose to take the power play soon after, they opted for what appears likely to become a common trend of targeting the two centres, but they failed to score any points despite their two-man advantage. It meant they went into half time still trailing 19-3.
And while Maties made effective use of the power play, the opening game on Monday also displayed how teams can so easily get it wrong.
Tuks opted to call for it when they trailed 16-5, but in their desperation, they over-complicated an attacking move and knocked the ball on. To make matters worse, Tuks then conceded a penalty and three points as the power play completely backfired.
Interestingly, Shimlas had to take the power play automatically after they waited until reaching the second strategic timeout midway through the final stanza. They opted to remove both of Tuks’ centres, but Shimlas also immediately handed the advantage back to their opponents after knocking the ball on.
Tuks duly went on the hunt for a try during the power play period, which could have seen them awarded an extra two points (seven points before the conversion), but they failed to execute an attacking lineout. As a result, the scoreline remained 19-5 in Shimlas’ favour.
All in all, the much-spoken-of power play proved to be far less dramatic than expected in two of the headline fixtures on Monday. Some might argue that it did, in fact, add an intriguing new element to the proceedings.
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