The Varsity Cup’s latest law change has been heavily criticised, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
In early-December, Varsity Rugby announced that Varsity Cup and Varsity Shield matches in 2018 would have a ‘power play’. However, instead of eliciting enthusiasm and excitement, this latest law experiment was
met with stinging condemnation on social media.
The rule enables a captain to remove any two nominated backline players from the opposition for three minutes of playing time, provided the team calling the power play is inside its own half. The defending side, as an incentive, will be awarded two extra points should it score a try while down to 13 men. (Varsity Rugby has retained its try-scoring law that sees seven points awarded for a try that originated from inside the team’s 22m area.)
Varsity Rugby CEO Duitser Bosman insists the power play will benefit South African rugby. He says it will equip players to defend with fewer tacklers in the defensive line and give attackers a ruthless edge.
‘The power play can get a generation of coaches and players thinking and playing differently from the moment they have to play with or against fewer players due to yellow and red cards,’ he tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘The inability to adapt to a yellow or red card was shown in quite a few important games in 2017 and those moments had a massive effect on the outcome of games.
‘Two of the biggest games in the world last year were the second Test between the All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions and the Super Rugby final between the Lions and Crusaders. Both were significantly influenced by a red card. We know the power play can initiate a trend that allows local players to thrive in match situations like that. We have a good track record when it comes to setting trends.’
However, former Test referee Jonathan Kaplan has his doubts.
‘It’s potentially quite gimmicky,’ he says. ‘When a player gets eliminated by a referee because of foul play, be it for a punch or deliberate infringement, that creates a mismatch but a legitimate mismatch, because it is not the referee’s fault.
‘Even though many other sports have power plays, they are generated through misdemeanours of the players themselves rather than by the whim of an opposition coach. Cricket also has power plays that are potentially gimmicky, as they allow the batsmen to get more runs on the board during a specific time of the game.
‘With that in mind, this experiment needs to be given a chance, but I’m not sure it is going to have the desired effect.’
Bosman says all but one board member voted for the rule to be implemented, but admits there were objections from coaches and referees.
‘It’s a well thought-through concept, but some of the comments [on social media] were really negative. Obviously, we didn’t expect everyone to love it, but I think two, three weeks into the competition substantially fewer people will be negative about it. They will start to realise the power play will actually benefit our Super Rugby squads and Springboks.
‘Obviously, the purist won’t enjoy it,’ Bosman adds. ‘They want rugby to stay like it was in 1940; they don’t want anything to change, ever. But the sports landscape is changing rapidly and so are the ways in which fans are consuming our sport.
‘People want to be entertained and this rule is not only about the next generation of players, but about the next generation of fans as well,’ he adds. ‘And we are excited to be bringing something new to the table.’
– This article first appeared in the February 2018 issue of SA Rugby magazine
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images